Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This is When It Strikes You Most

In the whispering crack of my door opening, I wake and feel him tiptoe near.

"Mom?" he asks and I know.

"I'll be right there."
Photo Credit: Flickr user Daniel Gies, Creative Commons, cc license
He pads away, hands out to navigate the dark room and hallway. I hear his door open and shut across the corridor. Wrapping myself in my blue African cloth, I maneuver the bed, the laundry pile, and into my eight year old's room.

"What's up, bud?" I crouch and sit down beside his low bed.

"My cousin, Ben, you know?"

I nod sleepily.

"My cousin, Ben, and me, we were at Grandma and Grandpa's house in their yard, and there was a big snake -- a black cobra. And he got Ben!"

I rest my hand on Daniel's chest. His heart, still fluttering and hammering against bone and skin, bounces under my palm.

"I'm sorry, bud. Dreams can be scary." Smoothing his hair, I stroke his cheek and feel his breathing slow. "Should we talk to God?"

He nods vigorously in the dark.

"Want me to, or you?"

"I will," he says and he starts immediately. "God, I'm scared. Will you help me? Will you help me not be scared? Thanks.

"Mom? Will you sing a song?" he asks, a quiet voice rising up from the blue and pink Piglet pillow in the dark.

"Sure," and I wrack my brain to be awake, to find helpful words and this is when it strikes you most. Need to know What you Know that you Know? Ask a sleepy brain to spout truth. What bubbles up is what you have become convinced of, what has become ingrained in your bones, what pounds in fluttered rhythm with your heart. A verse come, its reference forgotten but its truth burnished in dark bedroom from constant use. "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." The words ring out, the refuge is clear, and I say it again, then move into the next.

"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you, oh God, are with me. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you, oh God, are with me, Psalm 4:8, Psalm 4:8, Psalm 4:8." And even the reference is part of the song lyrics we made up years ago in an effort to imprint these truths in our hearts, in our beings.

There were two other songs we sang, childlike and simple, yet with truths that have become bedrock and bone to us. "God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, he's so good to us. He gives good things, he gives good things, he gives good things, he's so good to us." We end with "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so; little ones to him belong, we are weak but he is strong." 

"Thanks, Mom," he murmurs and I can hear the peace in his voice, the thick tiredness creeping in. I kiss his face, trail my fingers on his quiet chest, and pull the door shut behind me.

Slipping beneath my blanket, I lie awake. The minutes stretch to hours in this new forty-something season. My brain flips topics and writes To Do Lists, making mental notes for morning. I think of the college applications my daughter has been doing (some colleges looming distant); remember this week's presidential debates; ponder futures, and I feel my own heart start to flutter faster.

And like my son, I whisper to the God of the world, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you... I will lie down and sleep in peace for you, oh God, are with me." A story and passage teases my mind from earlier and I vow to look it up. Today over coffee, I page to find it and smile in recognition. An ancient world leader in crisis speaks it out and his words are timeless: "[God], we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you." 

And those truths settle deep beneath our ribs, bubbling up when bidden and shaping who we are.

Hi friend. What truths or foundational verses bubble up inside you? I love to learn and hear from others. 

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Monday, September 12, 2016

How Your Voice Translates Across Chords and Courtyards

Twenty of us scraped chairs on shiny wooden floors then settled legs still. My paper plate sagged with food: a tangy key lime cheesecake slice with frothy whipped cream lay next to a smooth plain cheesecake piece topped with blueberry crisp. Sweet corn and pepper cowboy caviar salsa slid juices across the plate and soaked deliciously into smoky cheese and cured salami wedges.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Ken Dodds, Creative commons cc license
The musician, Dan Rumsey, snapped his harmonica into the angular metal mouth bracket around his neck, picked up one of his guitars, and stole us away. In husky rhythm and blues stanzas, Dan sketched scenes for us. Moments from the "First Day of First Grade" brought chuckles as audience-members remembered freshly-shaved pencils and awkward first moments in school lunchrooms. Each song was an impressionistic capture of a moment or feeling in time: sitting on front porch steps in quiet twilight; the inhaled scent of his daughter's childhood blanket and the sudden hum of a basement furnace; and a purple-infused Minneapolis skyline when the city came together to mourn a Minnesota-based musician's death.

In a few words and phrases, Dan painted fragments frozen in time, and the artist side of me was refreshed, encouraged, renewed.

Sitting in a downtown Minneapolis coffeeshop a day or two after the house concert, I am surrounded by art. Students from nearby Minneapolis College of Art and Design wander in and out of the trendy coffeeshop, their artistic natures flaring through bulging school bags, slim computer cases, and in their clothing, hair, and tattoos. Giant green oxidized metal sculptures lay heads sideways in the front lawn of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, peering out at traffic, and God's masterful ivy crawls living canvas up brick buildings.

Whatever your Art, my friend, know that it matters. Whether through words, paint, lyrics, charcoal sketch, computer code, a job exquisitely-done, the mood of a home, a landscaped yard, or the fragrance of a bubbling broth, your artistic expression is needed.

You bring beauty, captured moments, imbued emotions, and re-purposed memories from the past. Through your art, we get to breathe in, feel it, and experience what you've seen. It conjures up memories and experiences from our own lives that make us say, "Ah! You too?" "Me too!" and humans connect across continents, cultures, and constructs of time. 

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Woman in the Woods

Like an M. Night Shyamalan film, the title emerges: The Woman in the Woods.
Photo Credit: Flckr user Nick Kenrick, Creative Commons cc license
At her wooden desk layered with papers and folders, Morgan studies criss-crossed characters of Mandarin Chinese. In isolated pieces called radicals, she sees the term for female, and other radicals multiply to take one tree to multiple trees. A female in the forest, the girl in the trees, the woman in the woods -- and the pictures are clear. The intriguing part, however, is that those are the radicals for the word avarice or greed.

This is Morgan's first assignment for her college Mandarin Chinese class: tackle two Chinese words by studying the interwoven intricate word pictures formed by radicals. And the beauty of an ancient script from hundreds of years ago brings new meaning to seemingly-simple words. 

Her first word boat depicted an eight-mouth (i.e. eight person) floating vessel. Morgan's professor gave the students a clue, pointing to an even older ancient text, the biblical book of Genesis. Where in ancient history and oral accounts do we first hear of a boat? How many people were on-board? Verses about Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives, waver into mind's eye. Boat equals an eight-person vessel. Hidden deep within Chinese characters? Wow.

Finishing up her homework, now at word two, Morgan dissects radicals and wonders about a woman among the trees. How does that show an insatiable greed, a hunger for more, and a dissatisfaction for what she has? A woman among the trees, dissatisfied and wanting more, is the symbol in Chinese for avarice/greed. The realization suddenly jolts into place for me. (The professor's hint of Genesis helps too).

Word origins from early time point to a gnawing lie that rumbles hungry in all of us some days. It's not just for an ancient civilization woman in the trees, but for any man or woman in suburban homes, on city streets, at coffee shop counters. Whenever we stop seeing all the good gifts around us and start wondering if God is holding out on us, we're in peril of a dangerous greed.

Because the thing is: Eve was surrounded by a lavish, lush garden of delights. She had access to all the trees --thousands of them-- except one.

I've been struck all week by this ancient image captured in Hebrew accounts and in Chinese characters. I'm training myself to see and remember all the good things in my life, because we can so easily become the woman in the woods.

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