October 11

LIVING RICH WHEN FEELING POOR

So what do we do while we are “watching for God” — that is, while we are waiting for the answer to prayer?  Moreover, how do we live in the reality of the abundance Jesus Christ promised when we look all around us and see everything but abundance–poverty of love,  poverty of morality as well as economic poverty?

A few days ago I fell into a funk.  All I could sense was the great need for health and faith and hope and love in our world, our country and in the lives of people I love.  In addition, I have failed to reach some personal goals for myself.  I felt myself slipping down into a very scary place.

Several things helped me.  I had some places I could go and people I had promised to see.  Also, I have books–stories of people who inspire me.  I have poetry and I have the Bible.  I began to read, and slowly I remembered that even when I can’t see how God is going to work in the various lives I pray for (including my own), I am rich in the knowledge that He does love us.  He has not forgotten the world, our nation, my loved ones, or me.  In the meantime, I have books to read and people to see.  I can truly live rich in a world that sometimes looks very poor indeed.

August 16

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Everybody loves a good story!  The teaching team at my church (The Fellowship at Two Rivers) is teaching the next series through the New Testament by telling the stories of the people.  We will very likely remember the stories and make the connection to our own lives.

So I’ll tell you a story of my latest trip to McKay’s Used Book Store.  I traded in some books and came back with some treasures.  One in the free bin caught my eye.  It was written by a psychiatrist/psychotherapist who contrasted the medical model of treating people with mental illness with what the author believes is the more accurate means—psychotherapy.  And why?  Because, he says, we are more than our brain—we are souls, souls in need of healing.  (E-mail me if you want the author’s name; I’m at poetryforthejourney@gmail.com.)

What do people need?  We need as infants to be nurtured and loved (I personally saw one precious little child in Haiti now receiving lots of love, but who cannot speak possibly because of just such a lack in infancy).  But we don’t stop needing love.  When we don’t get what we need, when we are hurt or neglected, we might survive physically but we carry around the wound.

Medicine can anesthetize a symptom but this author says to pay attention to our symptoms, they are trying to tell us something.  We are not physicians, but we as Christians are in the business of offering spiritual (or soul) healing.  How do we do this?  Well, one way I believe is simply to tell our stories.  I am starting to look at the senior members of my fellowship as treasuries of a lifetime of stories of God’s faithfulness.  Do you have a story?

June 2

SAY IT’S WITH A POEM

Say that every human being

is born with a mystery, a vessel that

hungers and thirsts.

Say no one explains this mystery right away

and each one tries to fill the void with

earthly things

which, of course, never work.

 

Say there is a great divide

and although omniscient and omnipotent

The One Who Satisfies must find a way

to communicate.  A great Lover who is

limited nevertheless to finding ways

to reveal Himself (or Herself:  the grammar

is itself limited).

 

Say sometimes a magnificent sunset will do it,

but usually it’s with words.

He has to use the right language, of course;

it’s His fault (there being many).

Say someone hears their name in a song.

 

Say it’s a halting, hesitating, most definitely awkward

kind of song—a poem.

Say it’s with a poem, and say someone hears their name

like it’s a personal love letter.

Say it’s no accident.

May 4

California Girl

Last evening I watched on public television the story of Janis Joplin.  I hadn’t intended to stay but I found myself drawn in by the story and yes, that haunting music.  Rejected even ridiculed when young—even voted somewhere – a bar maybe –“the world’s ugliest man” – Janis was like young girls everywhere.  She just wanted to be loved.

Janis was bored with small-town life in Texas and it was about this time that she started to hear the music.  She had some musician friends, some guys who took her to Austin and it was in Austin that she heard those blues.   They called to her loneliness, maybe.  She began to mimic the sound for by this time she had discovered she had a pretty powerful voice.  In time, she went to San Francisco and with her band, Janis was a hit.

She tried to go home sometimes.  Once she thought her boyfriend was coming to marry her only instead when she called him, a woman answered.  He already had a wife or girlfriend and a baby; he was not coming to marry her.  One more time the shame of not being pretty enough, not being loved enough washed over Janis.  She went back to San Francisco (when she said she was going to Austin).  She became famous.

Maybe I was fascinated with Janis’s story because in the 60’s I, too, was a “California girl.”  I was living in Southern California with my young husband, working as a secretary at Long Beach State College.  It was there that I met a vivacious young receptionist at the Information Desk who sat with me on our lunch breaks and let me hear her recite Bible verses she was memorizing.  Those words were electricity for me (as she knew they would be).  I wanted to know Jesus Christ like that.  In a few months my husband and I were baptized together.  There’s more to that story, of course.  The road was not always smooth.

But there is one memory I have of that decade that reminded me of how easy it is to be seduced by admiration, affirmation.  My husband had a buddy at work who was trying to get in the movies and he asked if I would memorize a few lines and go with him to Hollywood to meet his agent, and perform our scene for him.  I was excited to be so close to the Hollywood scene, and I dressed in a way that makes me ashamed now as I think about it.  Around this time, we watched The Graduate and I cried all the way home.  I was ashamed of myself for getting so close to the immorality of that world (and the temptation in me).

I’ve written a poem about Janis (and maybe myself a little).

CALIFORNIA GIRL

Janis, Janis, little girl, I wish I could have been there

to tell you that you were lovely just the way you were

to tell you that you were loved and that your Creator had a

wonderful purpose for your life.

But you believed a lie—

that if you yelled loud enough maybe someone

would hear your pain and love you—

“I’ll do anything you want!” you cried, moaned–

(but you didn’t want to hear about that cross).

So they used you and you used, too, to relax they say

and then one day it was too late to go home.

And the men who knew you and used you sat around

discussing you many years after you were gone

(how did you die, dear girl, they didn’t say).

A woman talked about you, too.

She said “It was like being with God.  I wish I could have been there.”

Like I said, she believed a lie.

 

January 20

New Member Welcome Guide

I guess I’ve learned the hard way how not to join a church. Being a bit naive and self-confident, I assumed that being a Christian, it should be easy to walk in a church, attend services and a small group, and be accepted. Trust me in this, in case you’ve been in a church all your life (the same one, that is), it’s not that easy. The thing is, you’ve got to be humble. Humble and patient. I don’t think I get high marks in either of these. Oh, and thick-skinned helps, too. Not everyone will hand out directories of a class you’ve attended for several weeks and refuse you one, but be ready. It could happen. Not everyone will stand up beside you when you’ve accidentally sat in her pew around many open rows and say loudly, “It sure has gotten crowded here today.” It happened to me once. Not everyone will invite you to a meal in a restaurant and leave you sitting by yourself as eight or so ladies gather together at a different one.  Enough. I think I’ve learned not to pay attention to this kind of behavior, to realize that the grace of the Savior is still true, to accept that His love has to be received before it can be extended to others.

Billy Collins is a modern poet (still living) who writes some delightfully funny and insightful poetry. I love one by him titled “Introduction to Poetry” in case you care to look it up. But I wrote a poem similar to his style and I called it

New Member Welcome Guide.

I ask them to walk to the other side of the room and
climb on the window sill, smiling down at the people below
or turn around and wave to someone at the back.

I say bring a ladder to the party and polish the
chandeliers while the show goes on,

or grab a fussy child and feed them ice cream.

I want them to find someone they don’t know
and offer a stretch limousine, a gourmet meal and
$1,000 if they will come home with them for a day.

But all they want to do is nail themselves to the chair
while guard dogs surround them, growling ferociously.

They begin cracking a whip to keep the strangers at bay.