The Gathering Waters

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These past few days I cannot seem to shake this dis-ease—this disease of anxiety. It’s the feeling of the earth shifting under the feet; of doubt in all that I’ve known to be true. Our neighbors are hurting. We’ve given and donated and offered ourselves as available, but for those who’ve lost so much it can never be enough.

So I do what I always do when I feel helpless, I bury my nose in a book. A couple days ago I picked up Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, a novel I’ve always wanted to read but just never have until now. Summer is for reading, and what’s more, for reading fiction, in my book; so I finally took the plunge. I’ve savored every word of Berry’s economical writing, loving his storytelling voice, which—and this came as no surprise for one well-familiar with his poetry—is warm and rich and lovely.

Last night Jeff had a late meeting and Jeffrey had plans with friends, so after I fed the one remaining boy at home (grilled chicken and vegie kabobs, outside dining on the deck), it was with a thrill that I spread an old blanket out under the shade of the lilac bush. The ground is almost dry now from the heat of the summer sun, the sky dripped blue over me, and I could hear the grasses in the meadows shushing. I carried a stack of books with me like I was going on retreat and read with the songs of Robins as a backdrop.

Turned out I only needed the one book, Jayber Crow. I settled deeper and deeper into the story of orphan boy turned man and it was just the distraction I needed. Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned the page and came upon a chapter titled, “The Gathering Waters.”

In this chapter, Jayber is trying to get back home to Squire’s Landing, Kentucky after taking a roundabout way through Louisville. He is on foot and Berry soon has him walking through one of history’s greatest flood stories, The Great Flood of 1937. In Jayber’s story, he safely crosses a bridge in peril, only to find himself with nowhere to go. A policeman directs him to the capitol building, where he finds warmth, shelter, a hot meal, and a place to sleep for the night among other refugees.

I was thoroughly tired, and I didn’t exactly lie awake, but I didn’t exactly sleep either. As soon as I shut my eyes I could see the river again, only now I seemed to see it up and down its whole length. Where just a little while before people had been breathing and eating and going about their old, every day lives, now I could see the currents come riding in, at first picking up straws and dead leaves and little sticks, and then boards and pieces of firewood and whole logs, and then maybe the henhouse or the barn or the house itself. As if the mountains had melted and were flowing to the sea, the water rose and filled all the airy spaces of rooms and stalls and fields and woods, carrying away everything that would float, casting up the people and scattering them, scattering or drowning their animals and poultry flocks. The whole world, it seemed, was cast adrift, riding the currents, whirled about in eddies, the old life submerged and gone, the new not yet come.”

As I read Jayber’s story, I knew I was reading the story of so many West Virginians. My heart was in my throat as I poured over each line, each detailed description of Jayber’s encounters. The scenes were so real, so fresh to me, and images flashed through my mind of mud-filled school buildings, cars atop trees, houses spilled out into the streets. Everything I’ve seen and heard on the news these past few days came to the forefront of my mind and my heart was stilled. Berry places his hero in the Great Flood of 1937, a flood—Wikipedia tells me—that seeped from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, left one million people homeless, took 385 lives, and caused millions (billions by today’s standards) in property damage. This, during the Great Depression when resources for aid were scarce.

It feels like our little state has dipped back in time. We keep shaking our heads and wondering how such devastation can occur during this day and age. But this is what comes of a living scratched out in the shadow of these ancient mountains, a living born in the rich soil of river valleys. It is, as Berry wrote, “… as if the mountains had melted and were flowing to the sea.”

Cleanup will take a long time here. It will cost much, in more than dollars.

If you want to see more of what is going on here, here’s a little taste from the Weather Channel.

If you’d like to help with the recovery, check out these organizations.

The Red Cross
The United Way of Central West Virginia
Volunteer West Virginia
The Salvation Army

And please keep praying for our neighbors.

The Earth Opened Up (a poem) and A Winner!

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Have you ever noticed how reading poetry inspires writing poetry? That’s what Megan Willome‘s book The Joy of Poetry is doing for me. Did I mention I’m giving away an autographed copy of Megan’s book? (Winner announced after the poem). Here are some lines that came to me while out running this past weekend.

The Earth Opened Up Before Me

the earth opened up before me,
and I ran as in a dream, legs
alive apart from body,
breath morphed into a living
creature, skin baptized by
dew; the light of morning a
scrim of stars; my
thoughts a world within
a world, making space
inside for watching
the birth of light, an
initiation into the day

I am the reason
for all of this:
sky purpling on the horizon,
the way a single rain
drop divots on the sleeping lake
to announce the coming storm,
grass winking and yellowing
in the morning sun.
I am the reason.
and if I am,
so are you.

The winner of the autographed copy of The Joy of Poetry is … Lynn Morrissey!

The Joy of Poetry: Giveaway

MW-Joy-of-Poetry-Front-cover-350-highSince the start of the year the pace of life has eclipsed the slow savor of the moments. I’ve struggled to inhabit the swift-ticking revolution of the clock’s hands. This year will be remembered as a year of transition: the transition to working more hours at the hospital, to being a mother of a son off-to-school, to grieving the tapering of the writing life, to changes in this body-temple my spirit inhabits … . It’s enough to open my eyes each morning and show up for the next thing. I’m finding new ways to feed my heart in the midst of this rapid-cycling season.

One thing that slows me down? Poetry. Taking ten minutes to read a poem every day gives my soul a spirit-vitamin like nothing else.

“Poetry is a nookish sort of place,” Megan Willome says in her book The Joy of Poetry: How to Keep, Save & Make Your Life with Poems.

And it’s a nook I’ve found refuge in many times throughout these past months. Megan’s book is one I’ve been dipping into and savoring as I maneuver through this uncomfortable shift in my life. The Joy of Poetry is part memoir, part instruction manual—instructions for life and enjoying poetry.

“Poetry is my prescription for adversity,” Megan tells us, at one point in the book, as she shares bits of the story of walking with her mother through cancer and how poetry did, indeed, “save” her during that time. Megan has a gift for weaving in the perfect poem to illustrate her prose. She introduced me to many voices—some of the old tried and true poets, and some new—all aptly featured in the greater narrative.

“Good poetry reaches beyond biography to touch a reader or to talk about greater things,” she says, and then proceeds to give us poems that do just that. (You’ll even find one by yours truly in her treasury).

If you’ve ever felt the nudge to learn more about poetry, or are just looking for a good book to feed your soul, may I recommend The Joy of Poetry? I love it so much I’m giving away one copy. All you need do is leave a comment on this post to be entered for a chance to win an autographed copy sent directly to you from the author herself. If you post about this giveaway on social media, make sure to mention this in your comment and you’ll get one extra entry for each outlet on which you share.

A Winsome Giveaway

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Each morning when I drive through these ancient hills on my way to work, the sun is higher in the sky. I wander out into a wide awake world and daylight becomes the early bird. Time has a slippery way about it, and these days, I notice how quickly the seasons come and go. So when I get the chance to slow down—to change the scenery and open eyes wide to each moment, it feels like a celebration. That’s what the Winsome Retreat did for me last weekend—spoke kairos time into my chronos. I met so many amazing sisters, made new friends and caught up with old. I wanted to share a few of my new friends with you so you might celebrate with me also.

Jenn Hand is the executive director of Coming Alive Ministries and she is amazing. Jenn is a missionary with a heart for all God’s children. Did I mention she is hilarious? We laughed so hard when she gave her talk that my cheeks hurt after. And she is just the same at the dinner table as she is behind the podium. A genuine, generous, all-in-for-Jesus kind of gal. She tells the best stories and they always lead her listeners back to the heart of God.

Emily Dean is the founder/director of Varity Vareé, a multi-media business that takes everyday women and tells their story in a beautiful and new way. Each woman they feature participates in two photoshoots and an extensive interview. I asked Emily what gave her the idea for such a unique business. “I was doing a lot of modeling, “she said, “and I realized that when I did that work I felt like a canvas for the beauty other people wanted to project.” She wondered what would happen if every woman was given that opportunity to be in the spotlight. Varity Vareé was born out of her ability to see the beauty in every woman. She wanted to share those stories and lift them up as beautiful.  Our conversation got interrupted by Emily’s wee one—the tiny eight-week old infant she had with her at the retreat. She also sang with the worship team all weekend. A woman of many talents and much beauty.

Hilary Hyland is a photographer, artist, singer, and musician. She designed the Enough print that retreat attendees were gifted with. When I told Hilary how much her voice captivated me, she smiled and told me she had been hoarse the past few days! She said God was really using that to stretch her. But believe me, God made it work. Her earnest vocals pulled us right into the holy. Check out some of Hilary’s photography work here.

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Kim Hyland, founder of Winsome (mother to Emily and mother-in-law to Hilary) gave the opening keynote Friday night and she talked about how, as the body of Christ, we need each other and the unique gifts we all bring into this world. Winsome was a living, breathing example of that—each person there made the weekend lovelier and lovelier.

I’m still processing all the sweetness of the kairos time we had together. Because joy multiplies when shared, I want to give away a little bundle of books to one reader. Included: A signed copy of Jenn Hand’s 31 Days to Coming Alive and a copy of Deidra Riggs’s Every Little Thing (plus a couple extras). Deidra gave the keynote Saturday night and her message was Spirit-led and beautiful (just like her).

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Leave a comment by Thursday 4/21 for a chance to win. I’ll announce the winner next Friday.

Ashes (and a Giveaway)

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Last night I fell asleep with an ashen cross on my forehead, careful not to smear on the pillow. I dreamed of flying through white ash falling like snow, of a warm flame that doesn’t burn, and a fire in my chest. When I awakened, there was barely a smudge where the cross once was, but I still felt its mark on me.

We have begun the Lenten season, a time traditionally devoted to self-reflection and repentance. Some people like to make a particular sacrifice—coffee or chocolate or wine—but I’ve been so unmoored lately, feeling the loss of things out of my control. I haven’t been able to find a rhythm since Teddy left us in the fall, since losing a valued occupation, since changing direction in life.

This place of shaky legs is most uncomfortable. In saying this, I am reminded of something my pastor said last night in the Ash Wednesday service. “We thought about playing music as people travel through the reflection stations. It’s a little uncomfortable to move around the sanctuary in silence. Then we thought, maybe it’s good to be uncomfortable once in a while.”

I’ve never been drawn to the nomadic; always keep an eye on the destination. But these days I’m not sure where I’m going and it feels like failure to me. During Lent, I am reminded that Jesus made that long walk to the cross for me. I know I should live every day—every moment—with this truth on my forehead, but I don’t. Perhaps an ashen cross is a good reminder.

I’m trying to live into a knowledge that life is about the journey. It feels a bit like aimless wandering at times. Not very sensible. But then, what does that word mean, sensible? Jonathan Edwards spoke of the “sensible idea” as a way of knowing God.

This is the means by which we are able even to begin the task of knowing God. God can never be fully known as an object of intellection, he argued, but must be loved through a deeply visceral and participatory way of knowing. Edwards insisted that it is the impassioned mind, the loving mind, the mind made open to all of its senses that thinks most clearly.” ~Belden Lane, Ravished by Beauty

By this definition, my wanderings are very sensible indeed. I look for God in all my humanity—scent of snow weighing down air, taste of salted caramel tickling the tongue, feel of skin against my lips, birdsong, glimpse of red flickering through barren trees …

Edwards says this world is a theater for God’s glory. Instead of thinking of my one wild and beautiful life as a destination, I shall think of it as a play. Impromptu. Fair and glorious in all its twists and turns.

This Lenten season I’m giving away some lovely books. This week, I have a copy of Kristen Welch’s Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. The book comes with a global family kit, a resource to help parents learn more about different cultures. Kristen and I met through our agent, Bill Jensen. Her story is really quite amazing. If you haven’t read her first book Rhinestone Jesus, you’re missing quite an inspiring tale! For a chance to win a copy of Kristen’s new book, just leave a comment on this post. I’ll announce the winner (and another giveaway) on Monday, 2/15.