Friday, January 31, 2014

Running hard after love

I've wanted to escape to this space for weeks now. To get lost in that suspended place of word and thought that swirls like so much wood smoke, evoking both memory and revery with each bend and jump. Here is where I come to figure out what really is ... to remind myself of the ground that holds me up and the sky that pulls at my chin. It is here that I remember how to breathe.

But I have been living the last two weeks at my parents' house and despite the fact that I have all but completely withdrawn from my regular life, the days have been fuller, stuffier, heavier than most. My mom is in the thick of chemotherapy treatments attempting, with all that science and positive energy can offer, to fight a disease that alters the makeup of her blood. Rather than work for her, her cells have declared anarchy. And she is tired.

We are all tired.

And although we may be chipped and cracked a bit, dizzy drunk from all that is working around and in and through us, we are not defeated. Nor have we lost hope. Never before have I been more in tune with the song of the Gospel that sings over me, every day. That although we walk a tenuous line between faith and fear and every step seeks to hand us over to death, life is rising in us, as well.

I witnessed this truth laced through I spent at my parents' house.

I didn't always see it while I was a child in their house. I was too busy living wildly off of the fruits of their diligence and gracious caretaking then. It has only been since returning as an adult, in a strange juxtaposition of caregiver and care receiver, that my eyes have been opened. It is only now, when the days seemed numbered, that I see the ring of light that circles the dark.


My parents do everything with care. My mom keeps a very tidy house and my dad keeps the whole machine running smoothly. Such has been their dance throughout 59 years of marriage and they still do it beautifully. The glorious thing about it all, however, is that it never was, nor ever is, at the expense of hospitality or graceful living. Neither of them has ever answered the door to surprise guests only to exclaim, "Forgive the messy house!" Instead, doors were thrown open, arms were outstretched and visitors were ushered in with squeals of delight.

My parents are curators of a welcome life.

You can imagine the difficulty, then, when illness enters the room and, despite a willing heart, the body can't always comply. The tenuous line is drawn and its diaphanous form etches itself across the floor, like a crack in plaster.

But, over and over, I watched my parents, my mother, especially, tilt towards life.


I always thought that if I was ever faced with a severe illness that I would, of course, take up arms and run into battle. I would not go down with the ship. I would rise above, stand defiant, go out kicking and screaming.

After witnessing the horrors of chemotherapy, however, I'm not so sure. The idea of fighting death with destruction doesn't settle well in my deepest places. But neither does quietly walking away from a life that I love. I don't know how to keep company with those who sing songs for Jesus' speedy return in order to save us from this swirling orb of humanity.

I want to live.

I want to wake up every day and gaze upon those that I love. I want to plant zinnias every summer and smell wood smoke trailing from stone chimneys. I want to eat gooey butter cake and lift weights at the Y and take road trips to the Rocky Mountains and cook bacon on Saturdays. I want to laugh at silly jokes and hear, once again, the stories that make our family its own brand of crazy. I want to hold fast to the hands clinging hard to mine.

I don't want any of this to ever stop.

I'm learning that the way to embrace a death sentence while simultaneously allowing life to rise in me is to run hard after love. In all circumstances, by every means necessary, even when I screw things up or do the exact right thing--I need love to be what is standing between me and everyone else.

When love is what I choose to weave in among the fibers and snags of my every day life, when love gilds the edges of tired joy or stretches across the chasms of unspoken fears then that cloudy glass is rubbed a little cleaner. Love lived on purpose breathes life and one can catch glimpses of glory come down.

I saw it most keenly the night I lay in bed alongside my mom. She was three days into chemo and every one of her body systems was in revolt. In that darkened room I quietly held hands with my mom and hung lavishly in that place of holding and being held. Our bodies formed a circle and I longed harder than ever that it remain unbroken. And then she whispered her thanksgiving, for me and my boys and my just being there. Her words, her naming the gifts, breathed life into my weary soul. It was love that floated between our souls in that moment and it became clearer than ever.

This speaking love into each others' lives? It is life.

Friday, January 10, 2014

In which there is Poetic Justice, for God is a Poet, but there is also Mercy

I am honored to open up space today for the words of Anita Mathias. Anita and I first connected in the comments section of a piece I wrote for SheLoves. A few months later she asked me to write a guest post over at her place. Clearly, we share an admiration for each other's words. Please join me in welcoming Anita to 
A Lifetime of Days.


Even while Esau was out hunting his father’s favourite wild game, Jacob and Rebecca slaughtered and cooked two choice young goats-- which Jacob served to Isaac, pretending to be Esau, stealing his blessing.

A cruel deception.

And, uncannily, years later, in his own old age, Jacob’s sons sold his favourite son into slavery, dipping Joseph’s precious robe in the blood of a slaughtered goat, claiming he had been killed by a wild beast.

Tricked with a goat, just as he had tricked his own father with a goat.
* * *

The seeds we sow, we reap, measure for measure. They lie dormant in the earth, sometimes for years, then yield their harvest.

The good we have done yields blessing, and the evil we’ve done conjures shadowy forces against us.

And that’s scary if we have sown bad seeds, have said and done less than luminous things, things we are now ashamed of.

* * *

But we do not live in a mechanical universe. We live in a just universe, shot through by mercy like a golden cord.

The law of sowing and reaping is the deep magic from the dawn of time, in C. S. Lewis’s phrase.

However there is a more powerful force still: the force of mercy, unleashed by the willing victim who bore in his body the punishment for all the bad seeds we have ever sown.

And so mercy triumphs over justice. The deep magic from before the dawn of time.

Jacob recovers Joseph; Esau was, in fact, blessed.

* * *

For myself, I want to sow good seed for the rest of my life.

But the bad seed I have sown? The things I am ashamed of? The things I did because of my small, bewildered, wounded heart?

I confess them.

I ask God’s forgiveness. I ask Christ’s blood to cover them.

And I step into the waterfall of mercy, the mercy that triumphs over justice because the One who loves the world is good.

I ask him to let all the bad seeds I’ve sown, which are still dormant, die.

And I ask him for grace to overplant much good seed to crowd out the bad seed.

And I ask him, the ultimate genetic engineer, to somehow, even now, change the DNA of the bad seed I’ve planted, and bring good from them.

And I place my life and future in His hands.

(Photo credit: Jenny Downing)

Anita Mathias is the author of Wandering Between Two Worlds
(Benediction Classics, 2007). She has won a writing fellowship from The National Endowment for the Arts, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The London MagazineCommonwealAmerica, The Christian Century, and The Best Spiritual Writing anthologies.

Anita lives in Oxford, England with her husband and daughters. She blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires. You can find her on Twitter @anitamathias1 or on Facebook at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Thing With Feathers

I grew up in a family that loved birds. As far back as my mind can remember, I have opened my eyes each morning and quickly found a window through which I could spot the birds already bustling about the yard.
My childhood house had a tall window over the kitchen sink and just outside there stood a sweet little redbud tree with heart-shaped leaves. It was just tall enough for its limbs to reach to where we stood inside and from one branch we hung a modest little feeder. Most of the time, however, we just threw bread crusts and stale crackers on the ground. I think the birds liked those the best.
My dad taught me the name of every single bird that visited. His eyes always lit up at the flighty dance of the chickadees or the flashing red of a cardinal and with every new arrival he welcomed them by name, like old friends returning from a lengthy absence.
That is how it always felt when the juncos appeared. We called them “snow birds” because they always arrived on the cusp of cold weather and were nature’s gentle reminder that winter was on its way.
Over the years my dad’s vast ornithological knowledge gradually seeped into the corners of my little head and, to this day, I can still name every bird I see. It is one of the greatest gifts my father has ever given me.
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You can read the rest of my words by following this link over to SheLoves Magazine.
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