Patchwork Prayer

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

“If we have any boast, it is not in our wealth or wisdom or strength. It is that we know the Lord. But an even greater boast…is that the Lord knows us. Here is our place to stand, our resting place.”¹

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

“I am afraid of insidious hands Oh Lord which grope into the darkness of my soul. Please be my guard against them.”²

When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.³

“Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him,
How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus
Oh for grace to trust him more.”

¹Stephen Smallman, Forty Days on the Mountain
²Flannery O’Connor, Prayer Journal
³Isaiah 43:1-2

Weeding

I. If telling yourself this represents that
Helps you for having a picture for your feeling
Go ahead and do so:
Take the aches and moans and spatter them onto the world
Until you understand them properly.
Afterward you’ll have a story to tell yourself,
Because you found some truth
Previously hidden away in the mess.

 

II. You’re here because you needed to move
Closer to the ground,
Like a person about to faint breaking the fall,
You stoop down and pull at the first weed you see,
Breaking its head but not the roots.
Go back, pull out the rest.
Toss everything aside.
Step one, check. Move on.

 

III. This isn’t your mother’s garden.
Somehow you got clay and cicada shells
While she has black topsoil and earthworms.
She worked hard for her garden,
And you know, somewhere,
That perhaps you’ll get there too, someday.

 

IV. There are so many weeds.
Two weeks ago, they burst out in little purple flowers.
You aren’t supposed to like weeds,
But the blooms charmed your heart
Which is so easily led astray by temporary things.
Now, the consequences:
A garden choked by leafy invaders.

 

V. You realize you’re doing of all this
For the sake of the peppermint plant
And the snapdragons.
You doubted the mint would return in the wake of winter’s havoc;
The snapdragons were supposed to die.
One year later and both of them have reappeared,
Persevering through dead leaves and dandelions–
Reminding you that what you plant may truly thrive,
And even things you believe will leave forever
Can return when you least expect them.

 

VI. If it helps to tell yourself that this flower is that thing in your life, do so.
Make weeds and flowers transform into stories.
This garden is your fairy land–
Slay all the dragons
And traipse down even the scary, spider-ridden paths.
But when you’re ready, and only then,
Go home to your warm bed and your comfortable pajamas,
Slide between the covers, and rest.

Happy Now?

I’ve written the first lines
Of a million and one poems,
With time only for beginnings,
Half-finished thoughts and undeveloped dreams.

I chase fresh starts,
Looking for Perfect,
For This Is IT.
Instead I find Good For Now.

But here, the sun is shining;
The trees are shivering into salient green buds,
And I think that’s good,
So I’ll pause, here, for now.

Illumination

I wanted to be angry
When you started work on the decayed hallways
Lined with dim outlines of emptiness.

Dust filtered down
And the foundations shook;
What a mess you’ve made.

But this is the grace of sight:
Not that I can see the cracks and breaks,
But that through them
I may glimpse the sun.

Bookmarks

Currently: A paint chip, “English Channel”,
From when we considered painting the living room
Some version of navy blue.

Previously: A gum wrapper;
An envelope with a Polish return address;
A strip of mint green ribbon;
A ticket I didn’t buy, for a Corinne Bailey Rae concert
Which I never attended.
Once, a hair tie.
Often, ripped corners of old coupons and junk mail.

I have a collection
Of real ones, neat and rectangular,
Complete with tassels and everything.
But rarely do they have the initiative
To be there when I need them,
So instead I fill the pages with bits of life
Snagged from side tables and pockets,
Colorful, folded, and sometimes torn,
But always ready to remind me of where I am.

Driving After Midnight

I don’t remember the very first time
I loved driving at night,
But I recall an early July evening,
When a phone call at 1am snapped me
Out of self-pity and
Took me and my car keys out the door
In search of a gas station for supplies
To help a friend stranded on I-495.
And as I drove there, on the bend
Just before the state line,
I saw what they meant by open road,
And I felt relieved of a worry
I’d refused to consider.

Lately I’m more inclined
To driving highways at night
Without even a plan or destination,
Chasing green signs and red tail lights,
Music playing loud.
Except I don’t sing. I sit and
I think,
And I move faster than usual.
I sit quiet and straight
While the vivacity of the world
Pours through the windows,
Tugging my hair and taking my breath,
And the only choice
Is whether I’ll return home,
Or keep driving–
In the dark but
Between the lines going on forever.

Christmas Lights

Unto you this day is born a Savior.
Born into a dark, silent night,
The Light Of The World
Rests not in heavens above,
But in our gloom and in our dirt.

Transfixed by my own darkness,
I turn away from the glare —
Turn away my heart and all my spare rooms.
I leave him in the cold and the night
That I might lock myself in, lonely and afraid.

Yet still he draws near, disregarding my defenses,
As envoys of light proclaim Fear not
Until slowly my eyes adjust
To the piercing brightness of Good News For All:
Great Joy come in a humble, earth-shattering infant.

 

Rest Ye Merry

I made a wedding cake last week, and I was grumpy the whole time. I was grumpy with it for taking up all my evenings in the first week of a very short December. Normally I love baking, and I love that I’ve been involved in creating so many wedding cakes. But I wanted to be making Christmas happen at my house, and cake was an obstacle rather than an opportunity. To be sure, I got my tree up, and by sheer dint of will there is a manger scene on my windowsill and glitter and lights making my house sparkle, but none of it felt as warm and fuzzy as I hoped. Every year I want the Christmas season to be the same as when I was a child. Not that I need all things to stay perfectly static– it’s more that my fading memory gives me an unrealistic longing for Christmas cheer to be clinging to every feeling and moment, adding luster to the mundane and a warm glow to even the coldest nights.

Instead of this cozy daydream, I am presented with the reality that I’m spending my days chasing a feeling I can’t hold onto for more than a minute at a time. All my work does very little to produce any tidings of comfort and joy. I walk around disappointed because my Christmas spirit didn’t arrive on my doorstep the day after Thanksgiving.

I think I’m starting to realize that the good tidings and the comfort and most importantly the joy are not something I can conjure at will, even supposing I had the energy to do so. More often than not, they are already there waiting patiently for me, if only I will stop my frantic activity long enough to notice them. Maybe I did a lot more stopping as a child. Or maybe I wasn’t moving as much in the first place. I remember cradling the joy of small moments: the pride and delight I felt in being lifted onto my dad’s shoulders to place the angel on the uppermost branch of the tree; the Christmas songs played over and over on the CD player in the kitchen; the steps I traced in my basement as I practiced the choreography for every part I had in The Nutcracker ballet. I was surrounded by reminders of how special Christmastime was, and every year I hoped desperately that I could care for each moment well enough to take them all with me into January.

Now I’m grown(ish), and while I’m doing all the things — the tree, the Advent services, the gingerbread cookies — I’m finding the best moments are the ones where I sit and let Christmas catch up to me. I curl on my couch beneath a warm blanket and I finally remember how each piece of festivity I’ve engineered should be a signpost directing me towards greater things than twinkling lights and presents beneath pine branches. I remember the first manger scene, which I’m quite certain was not so warm and clean and put-together as the porcelain one on my windowsill might lead me to believe. I remember that, praise the Lord, I am not called to a life that is always warm and perfect, but to a life  which welcomes the grace still emanating from that dirty, dingy stable. And it’s when I remember these things, sitting on my couch in my quiet house, that I find the good tidings and the comfort, and, most importantly, the joy.

 

Familiar Carols Play

Words Repeat
I’ve been doubting peace
On such a broken earth.
And questioning goodwill toward men
So wounded with sin.

But perhaps it was peace
Which permeated the prayer before our meal:
Sinuous yet strong
Enough to hold our hands
Together as we stood
In a haphazard circle around the kitchen.

And maybe it was goodwill
As we relinquished comfort and elbow room
Along the long rectangle of table
That we might send smiles back and forth
Between bites of turkey
And sweet potatoes drenched in sugary butter.

Moments to hold in my hands:
Here is Peace on our little spot of Earth,
A gentle reminder of hope.
Goodwill within these walls–
Living thankfulness
For glimpses of a joy to come.

 

Most Hesitant Follower

Some friends of mine recently released a gorgeous rendition of the hymn “He Leadeth Me.” I can’t recommend it enough:


I’ve been listening to it on repeat, not only because the music is heart-aching in how beautiful it is, but because the words of this hymn are true and yet entirely foreign to my unwieldy and sinful heart. Below is the only response I can summon.

In the Shadows of Small Understanding
Praise be–
My Lord is not intimidated
By my heart’s stubbornness.

Grace overflowing:
He uses even my most begrudging steps
To draw me nearer to Him.

Glory and wonder–
The Most High stoops
And gently clasps my most lowly hand.

And my soul sings for joy;
My imperfect melodies,
Born from a broken and helpless soul,
Finding a tune of grace
For the God of all praising.