Tag Archives: words

“Cultivation”…

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My life is full of a lot of very good things right now. After I count down from my husband and three vibrant children, there is an elementary school musical, my writing (that is just humming along), and my job. I count myself fortunate that I get to call my job, my ministry, too, and the stellar team of people who are my coworkers, my close friends.

You can find one of my coworker’s blog at aslanslibrary.wordpress.com. (Sarah, can you see me?)

She’s rather brilliant and we share an ambition for creating new beautiful things. If we can’t find something we like our mantra is “write our own”! Over Christmas we created our own Jesse Tree devotional. She wrote the words and I drew the icons to go on the twenty-four paper ornaments leading up to Christmas.

For Lent we are working on a prayer booklet. Praying together as a church, everything we do tries to cover the broad range between families and singles, children and adults. For adults, the booklet alone, for families we printed the prayers on dark purple strips of paper for children to make chains with over the forty days.

The cover of the prayer booklet has been a conundrum. I had contacted a friend that has some amazing stations of the cross prints, but he couldn’t scan them in time. Words alone would work. It would be fine. But I love images. And I had already staunchly stated that I would NOT be doing any artwork for it.

But, as I was proofreading our Children’s Ministry newsletter, I read Sarah’s beautiful words:

“Many of us find prayer difficult or downright discouraging: are we doing it right? How do you find time, anyway? It doesn’t feel like anything is happening! My children are wiggling, I’m distracted, and honestly it feels more productive to get up and empty the dishwasher. And yet: it is in prayer — the messy, uncomfortable, imperfect spaces we carve out and share with God — that the Creator of the universe settles in close and breathes new life into us. When we pray, we remember again that we are creatures, dependent on the one who made us. Prayer is the fertile ground out of which all of our action grows.”

Perhaps it was the word “carve” or the image of “fertile ground”, at any rate, I began to consider this print. I drew it over and over until I understood it. And then I managed to find a couple of hours in this crazy long weekend to carve it out.

Here is “Cultivation”. It is six layers of soil, like the six Sundays of Lent, laid out on top of each other in preparation for the new life of Eastertide. It is also the desert of Jesus’ forty days of prayer (see the five stones?) before the action of ministry. Together in Lent we will journey with Jesus to Jerusalem (see Jerusalem up there in the corner?) accompanying God’s “upside-down king — who says NO to power and glory, who helps lost people find their way home, who surrounds himself with people who are humble and unimportant” (more of Sarah’s words!) to claim a cross that looks nothing like the throne we would want or expect.

cultivation-print-image

The Letter…

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There’s a story in one of the later Anne books. Anne of Green Gables has become Anne of Ingleside, a mother, and Mrs. Doctor. She has met some reasonable literary success, published, but by no means famous except among her circle.

A newly widowed woman comes to Anne and asks her to write her husband’s obituary. Anne is dismayed and shocked. She barely knew Mr. What’s-his-name! All she knows of him is that their interactions were cordial and he was a patient sort of man.

Anne does all right, I guess. She manages to write something and though it doesn’t exactly suit the widow, “too high-falutin’” it is admitted that Dear Mr. What’s-his-name would’ve thought it “real keen”.

I was asked recently to work a similar errand. A woman in my circle had gotten very ill. It was a Parkinson-like disease and I was around in the beginning as she became trapped slowly inside her own body. She was good friends with my father and a member of my mother’s Bible study. This is what brought me to mind for the assignment. And what was it to be? A last Christmas present, a letter from a dying mother to her sons.

I have known this lady long, but not well. Her sons I have not met at all. Like Anne, all I know is that this lady loved me well and was admired by people I respect. I thought about what I could possibly say on behalf of a woman whose mind I couldn’t know who has lived far past my own life experience.

I had only words of a mother to her children. I wrote it out. It was brief. I hoped it would be true words for a woman limited to squeezing once for “yes” and twice for “no”.

It was not the first time I have committed my work in blind faith to a greater purpose I couldn’t know.

I’m afraid the caregiver who had asked me to write the letter gave up hoping that it would come. I almost gave up myself when my computer refused to start up and let me send it off. But my husband stuck my over-heating laptop in the freezer and it stayed on long enough for me to send this one e-mail.

A week later I would find out that my e-mail arrived just as the caregiver was leaving to give the present. She printed out my letter and took it over to our sick friend. The letter was approved with tears and read to the sons, who had a final gift from their mother. She passed away the next day on Christmas Eve.

I can’t help but think, with all my ambition and all the blue castles I build in the sky, that this is the writing I do that will make a difference.

It seemed arrogant to presume I could write that letter. But I’m so glad I wrote it.

Fear…

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It has been unveiled to me lately, the amount of fear hiding inside me.

One day, about a month ago, on a walk I asked myself, “Barbara, what would you be able to do if you did not fear? Who would you pursue into friendship?  Who would you extend hospitality to?”

I was overwhelmed by the breadth of the image that came, what could be accomplished if I was not subject to fear. I have since been trying to feel the edges, notice the limits, and recognize the deceitful promptings of this fear.

In New York I was baby free for a few hours and my brother and I made a mad dash through the MOMA and grabbed a coffee. So as we’re cutting past the park I’m stuffing my face with the flaky corners off of an excellent cheddar chive scone.  I’m half watching this long line of what could only be Texan cheerleaders on vacation when I notice this homeless woman lying in the middle of it all on a bench.

Eight million people revolved around her, yet, she was unseen.

I walked a few more steps, stuffed another bite in my mouth, hesitated, and then stopped my brother.

“Just a sec, Dave, I feel like I’m supposed to give this lady the rest of my scone.”

I began to feel the pressure of the fear. It was determined to make me feel insecure and insufficient to this moment.  Which I was, always am.  I approached the woman.

She lay on her side with her eyes open. The eight million people she was invisible to were invisible to her.  She stared through them.  Her makeup was so ridiculously thick, that she brought to mind a geisha.  But she was under there, in there, somewhere.

The fear arrived and sat heavily on top of me as I prayed desperately for the words this woman needed to hear. Why was I standing here?  What exactly was I supposed to say?

“I have half of a cheddar chive scone here. Would you like it? I only used my fingers to break off chunks.”

She glanced at me then away and shrugged concession. I laid it by her head.

“God bless you,” I said.

I was aware of the triteness of my statement. It’s my fear that hides behind a generic blessing and carefully avoids naming the more polarizing Jesus Christ.  My heart pounded and I made myself stay as I waited for the words, awkwardly standing over a homeless lady outside Central Park just staring at her.

“God loves you,” I said.

The look she gave me was odd. I couldn’t read it, maybe anger, maybe disbelief.  It unnerved me and I succumbed to the weight of the breathless moment and left.  As I passed the line of Texan tourists the words arrived suddenly and in a flood.

I was supposed to tell her that she was not invisible, that God saw her, and that, though I didn’t know her name, he knew her name. This is what I could’ve told her if I had rested under the fear another minute until the words had come.  Is it strange that my fear would try to eat the very thing that is my strength and my love, glorious healing words?

I did not turn around, but kept walking, the words burning inside of me. There was grace for me in that moment.  God and I stared down the massive shape of my fear that had suddenly become oh-so-visible.

Oh, friends, there is work to be done!

It’s coming down.