Friday, December 22, 2017

IT IS ALMOST CHRISTMAS EVE

It is almost Christmas Eve, and as we remember the birth of Jesus Christ, in our family we also will be celebrating little Eli's first birthday. I should also admit that I am thankful that I have survived the care of a little one with no emergencies and few aches and pains.  It has been a good seven months for this grandmother.  Of course, I have also had some adventures learning my way around the community, attending a writing conference, teaching a class or two, writing poetry and attending poetry readings where I stand up and make myself vulnerable to a roomful of strangers.  This grandmother is having fun.

I'm offering my latest poem in a series I hope to continue on some Biblical stories from a woman's point of view.  It has a little of everything:  another grandmother, a newborn baby and best of all, a little history and some ancestors of the baby Jesus.  So Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

MY NAME IS NAOMI
My name is Naomi .   
Mine is a true story, an important part of Israel’s history.
I lived after the great Exodus from Egypt but before
The kings.  Moses had died, Joshua too.  Also Samson, of
That Samson and Delilah story you’ve no doubt heard about.
My people had lost their identity.
When the scribes wrote about us, they often just said,
“The sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.”
Everything changed for me with the famine in our land.
My husband moved us, myself and our two sons,
To the land of Moab, a foreign place. 
Jews were in the minority there.  After a while,
My husband died, and sorrow upon sorrow,
So did our two sons, leaving me and their two wives alone.

My sons married women who had not been taught about Yahweh,
Our God, or Moses or the Commandments.  So when I made
Plans to return home, I urged the girls to go back to their parents.
Eventually one did, but Ruth refused to leave me.  The words
She spoke to me are quoted to this day in wedding ceremonies.
“Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.
Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Clearly, Ruth was now an adopted Hebrew as much as if
She were my own birth daughter. 
We caused quite a stir when we arrived back in the village.
Some recognized me but I was depressed.  I went out full but
Came back empty, I said.  The rest of the story of how Ruth met Boaz,
married him and became pregnant—well, it’s a lovely story and you can
read it for yourself in the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. 

When Ruth gave birth to a son, my joy returned to me. 
I held him in my arms and I knew the consolation only a newborn
Child can give.  Precious as he was, though, little Obed was not
Just another baby.  Obed when he grew up became the father of
Jesse who was the father of the boy David who became king.
You may or may not know this but from Jesse’s son David
Many years later was born Joseph, the father of Jesus,
Who would become the Savior of the world.  His real father, though,
As Mary knew quite well, was not Joseph but God.  
I couldn’t see all this that was to come in the future
But little by little I did see the hand of Yahweh in my life, in Ruth’s
And now with hindsight, I see how God was working out His plan
To bless the world with another Jewish Baby. 

My name is Naomi and this is my story.  


Friday, November 24, 2017

WHY IS SARAH LAUGHING?

In my intention to try to tell the Biblical story through the eyes and point of view of some of the women and men involved, Sarah came to mind.  It's appropriate actually for it is the beginning of the Christmas story; the first Jewish family and the first boy who was announced by angels (or angelic men).  Like the birth of Jesus, there was opposition and struggle, but the babe was born in spite of unbelief and opposition.  God's purpose to bless His world would prevail.

WHY DID SARAH LAUGH?

My name is Sarah.  You can find my story in the Book of Beginnings.
I was married to Abram; he was a good husband except when he wasn’t. 
I knew that I was barren when the visions and visitations began in Ur. 
The Lord told Abram—I don’t know how—He said to leave our families.
“I will make you a great nation, a blessing,” He said, “But you have to go.”
So we packed our belongings including servants and animals and left.  
Then the Lord appeared to Abram again and said the same thing.
He would come home and tell me about these visitations and I had to listen
there in my barren state.  Would Abram have to take another wife?  It seemed
inevitable.  Next we had to deal with famine.  It appeared that God had
forgotten us.  Abram took us down to Egypt where he lied about me.
Because I was beautiful, he told people that I was his sister so Pharaoh
wouldn’t want to kill him because of me.  Well I was his half-sister
but half a lie is still a lie.  Pharoah did claim me but he found out the truth.
He was furious (they don’t record how I felt) and sent me back to my husband.

Years passed; Abram went to war to rescue our nephew Lot.  Time passed
but still there was no child from my body. A third time Abram had a vision only that
time he tried to bargain with God.  Let a servant boy from our house be my heir! 
God took him outside and showed him the night sky.  “Count them if you can,
Abram. Your descendants – from your own body – will be that many.” 
Abram told me that it was then that he believed.  I was not yet convinced.
I told Abram to sleep with my maid Hagar; she got pregnant right away. 
When she knew, she hated me and I treated her badly until she ran away. 
Wouldn’t you know, the Lord appeared to her and she came back to us and
Ishmael was born.  When the Lord came again He changed our names. His,
Abraham, means “father of a multitude” and mine--“princess.” We were far
from either identity. Then one day a trinity came calling.  First we thought they
were men, then angels. Whoever, they spoke for God.  We prepared a meal for
them and after dinner, they told Abraham that in a year they would return and I

would have born a son. Really?  Now? The angel asked, “Why did Sarah laugh?”  
I came to the door of the tent; terrified, and denied it.  One said, “No, but you did laugh.
We will return in a year, and this will have come to pass.”  At that, Abraham laughed.
Can’t you just use Ishmael?  “I will bless Ishmael,” the Lord said, but the child of the
promise shall be through Sarah your wife.”  So those angelic men left and went
towards Sodom and Gomorrah.  But the Lord was not pleased with the men there.
“Their sin is exceedingly grave,” He said.  Abraham got involved, and so did Lot, and
so did Lot’s wife. There seemed to be a great unleashing of evil in the land at this time.
Looking back, it’s as if this child was sent by God for God’s purpose to bless the
world and all hell knew and resented and resisted his birth.
One more time, we traveled only for Abraham to lie about me again.
One more time, I was taken by a king, but he never touched me.  This child Abram
knew by then would have to be mine and his, not the child of a foreign king. 
Finally, I conceived and our son was born. God does have a sense of humor.
The name the Lord gave the child before he was ever conceived in my womb?

            Isaac. It means laughter.  

Thursday, November 23, 2017

WHAT AM I THANKFUL FOR...REALLY?

This is Thanksgiving morning; I'm not cooking the turkey this year (my son-in-law is) and I'm enjoying the leisure.  Yesterday my daughter and I spent our first day away with the children.  On the way back from the zoo, we talked again about my marriage to her father, just a random conversation that answered some questions for her and brought back memories, some I would rather not entertain.  My mentor in the area of expressive writing and its benefits is Kay Adams, creator of The Center for Journal Therapy.  She wears a lot of hats:  therapist, teacher, blogger, editor of a series of books as well as an author herself.  She would say that my brain will go automatically to those bad memories and bad feelings of regret until I intentionally re-frame things.  That, fortunately, is easy to do.  It goes to the heart of who I am and it answers the question, "What am I thankful for, really?"

While I have memories of bad judgment on my part and logical consequences: eventual divorce, bankruptcy, failure in career and in relationships, this all pales in comparison to the overwhelming joy I have known in being loved by God.  How do I know this, you ask?  I know this because over and over, people have come into my life (our lives) as friends and guides toward a more fruitful and blessed life. Those who know me know that my children and grand-children are obvious joys. But what else is it that makes me recognize another dimension beyond the natural, human one?

My young husband and I had both grown up in church, but of course that is no guarantee that a child will automatically find God for herself, himself.  About a year after we were married, we ended up in Long Beach, California, where my husband enrolled at Long Beach State as a student and I got a job working in an office.  Karen and Butch and Don and Birdie will probably never read this blog, but they were the angels God sent to help Bob and me.  Birdie was a receptionist at that college when I went up to her desk to buy a stamp.  We had driven around the town and picked out a church we'd like to visit.   I said, "It has a funny sign out front (Jesus Saves) but the building is lovely, I want to visit."  Birdie and Don were members there, and it was there on a Wednesday evening Bible study that I "heard" the message that I needed to respond to God's love, to believe on His Son and invite Him into my life.  I did and that was the beginning of my life with Him.  

About that time, a piece of mail blew out of a mailbox near us; when I returned it to our next-door neighbors, they just happened to also love Jesus and they became our second angel couple, loving us and being our friends.  Over and over again, I can look back over my life and see how God's love has been expressed to me through people.  It's not that we always made good decisions or never had to struggle.  Sometimes it was traumatic.  But always either through reading the Scriptures (how God typically speaks to His children) or through people I happen to encounter, God shows up to teach, guide or encourage me.  And that is what I am thankful for, really. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

THIS IS A CONVERSATION THAT NEVER TOOK PLACE

Very interested in all the #MeToo postings.  I have my own story that I had pretty much put out of my mind.  A fellow ESL teacher set me up in such a way that I was alone with him in a dark, unpopulated space (classrooms out in a field behind a church at night).  It was scary, and when I told the people in charge the next business day, they moved his class but he was not let go, therefore free to harass his students.  However, something (or Someone) inspired me to write this poem.  It's a first draft, but it's timely.  This is a conversation that never took place.

(“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Romans 1:16)

This is a conversation that never took place.
It could happen in a dream, though.  Jesus Christ could come
to H. W. in his sleep one night.  It would not be the first time
Jesus went out of his way to find some lost soul.

Jesus might say, “What can I do for you, H.W.?”
H.W.’s eyes would be cast down in shame--to his credit.
The photographs have shown no shame.  Arrogance, yes.
Even amusement.  But no shame.

H.W. says: “Well, I know two things.  You’re Jesus of Nazareth
and you’re dead.”  Smiling, Jesus says:  “No, H.W, look at me. 
I’m not dead.  I’m right here, alive, talking to you right now.”
H. W. says: “I’m a Jew; what am I to do with that?”

Jesus says: “I came for everyone, H.W., for the Jew first; also for
the Gentile.  I came for you.”  There is no logical reason, but H.W.
begins to sob, repentant.  H. W. is forgiven; H.W. is born again.

This is a conversation that never took place, but it could.  






Sunday, October 8, 2017

AN ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS FROM A WOMAN'S POINT OF VIEW (Revised)

Recently a poem of mine was critiqued by an experienced poet.  It was exciting to have him read my words and offer suggestions.  But it was an offhand remark he made that prompted me essentially to rewrite my poem.  He asked me, "Is this a true story?"  I thought most educated Americans would have heard about the woman at the well; I was wrong.  So here is a true story with a little updated language of an encounter with Jesus from the woman's point of view.

JESUS ASKS A WOMAN FOR A DRINK AND GIVES HER LIVING WATER
(Revised October 15, 2017)


First off, I should tell you that Jesus had no business
talking to me, even if it was just asking for a drink.
I knew he was a Jew and Jews are mighty particular
about who they do business with.  I, being a woman
and an outcast, was twice condemned by society most
especially the good women in the village who ostracized me.
This is why Jesus found me at the well at high Noon.
It was easier to deal with the hot sun than to feel the
cold stares of the righteous women from the village. 
I needed water and that’s where Jesus found me.

So did Jesus, it turned out.  He asked me for some.
I was so surprised that He even spoke to me, I asked
“Why was he, a Jew, speaking to me? Wouldn’t he contaminate
himself if he took a drink from my dipper?  Then he said
the strangest thing. It wasn’t just what he said—it was those
eyes: brown lasers of mercy.  He said: “If I knew who it was who
was asking me for water, I could ask Him for living water!”  
I knew we had moved from talking about a drink at the well.
Jesus somehow was offering me a gift.  I tried to talk theology
with him, maybe to divert him, I don’t know—it didn’t work.

So I asked him for this water. Wouldn’t you know, He told me
to go get my husband. I told him that I had none but He knew about
my five husbands and he also knew about the one who was
living with me who was not my husband.  I said I knew
that the Messiah was coming and He would explain all this to us. 
And then He looked at me and said,
“I, the one speaking to you right now, I am He.”
I dropped my water jar and ran all the way back to town. 
That’s the day I ceased being an outcast.  That living water?
It was like a soft spring rain that washed away my sins.

Jesus had mercy on me; He became my life, my source of joy, 
bubbling up from within me.  They call Him the Savior of the world;
I guess He is. I know He rescued me. I sent the man away.  I will
never be that desperate, thirsty woman again.  And when I find
someone like I used to be:  lonely, ashamed, thirsting for a drink
of living water, I take them to my Jesus.
                                                                  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Haiti - a Land I Can't Forget


On Facebook this morning came the faces of some sweet people from Nashville with whom I shared a difficult but memorable "mission trip" in 2015.  I use the quotes because honestly, it is a good question as to who ministers to whom.  You have to go to understand this.  I don't recommend my children go unless parents and children all go together; it is that drastic, that important.  It helped me to write a poem, so this is my offering in honor of those going again.  


Haiti, Haiti, Haiti, our little sister
the land we cringe from remembering
the land we are loathe to forget
how your people have trashed you
thrown you to the curb, abandoned your babies
(did they have another choice?)
walked away from your hospitals
where do the sick go now?
and yet, and yet...
teachers and doctors and dancers come
missionaries, too--your little children still play ball
and dance and loving parents in your country
and ours adopt the orphans and their lives
are enriched by the love these children give.
everyone gets a new life.

Haiti, Haiti, Haiti
you were enslaved by men of all colors
you have been ravished by natural disaster
and deceived by dark superstition
you walk dirty streets to carry water
you wash clothes with your hands
and you walk long distances to your jobs
you accept heat and dust without complaint
your cattle are hungry not to mention your children
and yet, and yet, you are not defeated and God has not
forgotten you and when you invite Him He comes.
He has sent teachers and preachers and servants
and artists and dancers and coaches and nurses--
your people though poor are rich and praise Him.

Haiti–the land I would choose not to remember
                            the land I am powerless to forget.



Written after a trip to Haiti in July 2015.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

WHAT I'VE LEARNED ABOUT STORMS


After arriving in San Luis Obispo County, I visited several churches and met lovely people in all of them.  Finally, I visited my daughter’s Vineyard congregation and stayed.  It doesn’t give me much social contact (it takes a lot longer for that) but I knew I was hearing authentic Gospel.  I stayed.  My daughter recommended a book she was reading, Jeff Pratt’s The Homeward Call.  She said her pastor knows the author—good enough for me.  I noticed that Jeff, the pastor and an online teacher I’ve been listening to, Jeremy Myers at RedeemingGod.com, all quote a Franciscan by the name of Richard Rohr. Interesting connections going on, it seems.  So I’m reading Jeff’s book and stopping to reflect and this morning’s instruction is: “Reflect on a past time of difficulty—what is God saying to you?”  I did and what God said was “I loved you then and I love you now.”  Profound for me, because there were days of pain, difficulty and to my sorrow, times I let someone or something “help” me – or I ran – instead of simply standing in the storm and letting God deliver me.  My husband died and I was living in Cornwall, England, trying to be the pastor to a whole new congregation in a new town and a country not my own.  Without going into the details, I faced opposition.  I ran.  I went home, except that there was no home to go to.  “Home” was there in England because that was where God had sent me.  I did not escape difficulty in the USA, because life is not like that.  We will have opposition. Life is hard anyway, but spiritual warfare is real.  So it went on, the difficulty, until I stopped trying to fix my life and let God take over.
So what have I learned?  When the storms come, this is what I have learned:

                Nothing is worth walking away from God
                I can’t go back and have a second chance
                I can’t undo certain decisions I made
                I can’t let the storm run its course
                But I can tell you without reservation—
                Nothing is worth walking away from God.
               
                When the sadness comes, when grief clouds your vision
                Wait. 
                When men offer you a way out of your pain
                Wait on God.
                God knows your broken heart and your loneliness
                God knows about the job loss and the messed up
                Living situation.

                Let the rains come and the winds beat down.
                Accept no rides out of the storm until you are sure
                Very sure
                It is God in that boat.

                

Thursday, September 14, 2017

MAY I HAVE THIS DANCE?

Not sure if it qualifies, but the following looks like a "prose poem."  It's a shortened version of a longer story and not with lines or stanzas as in regular poetry.  My story is not without sin and suffering, but somehow the light usually shines through.


MAY I HAVE THIS DANCE?



As I walked out of divorce court in 1992 I had a stone in my heart. My son and I walked down the street together, saw a book store and ambled in. Down close to the floor a title stood out to me:  May I Have This Dance?   It was written by a nun, Joyce Rupp.  She begins with a poem:   “But just when the old heap of bones seems most dry and deserted, a strong Breath of Life stirs among my dead.   Someone named God comes to my fragments and asks, with twinkling eye:  ‘May I have this dance?’” I bought the book and wrote for the next decade all over the front page reminding God of His question.  I didn’t have any idea on that day where all this was heading, but as a matter of fact it was there in my other hand.  Something about a woman in a clerical collar caught my eye (and my heart), and I bought the book by an Episcopal female priest.  God led me to theological school and to England where I preached in chapels on the Isle of Wight and one year (from a very high pulpit) on the mainland.  Later, I was able to visit the Holy Land where I fell in love with Jesus all over again (and maybe had a crush on our Jewish guide). I mean, it has been an adventure.  Now I am writing poems, some of them back to God.  After all, it was He who asked me to dance.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Remembering September 11 with a Psalm

On September 11 sixteen years ago, the world watched as so many people suffered and died.  Truly, our world has not been the same since.  On that day I was in the midst of a very dangerous relationship and the only thing to do was cry out to God.  Almost as a last thought, I brought along to California a one-year reading Bible.  This morning's Psalm was 107 and here are some of the words; I have changed the pronouns to remind me of how personal God's Word can be.

"Then she cried out to the Lord in her trouble; He rescued her from her distress.  He led her by the right path to go to a city where she could live.  Let her give thanks to the Lord for His faithful love and His wonderful works for the human race.  For He has satisfied the thirsty and filled the hungry with great things." (From the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Every Day with Jesus Bible, 1999.)

As my pastor said yesterday, I don't know why some people die when they do (and some live longer than they would choose I might add).  But we do know this one thing:  God's faithful love is real and available to all who call on Him.  That I do know.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A New Beginning

This is a blog to allow me to share with friends, family and curious acquaintances my ramblings mostly in poetry form.  About a year ago, I began to write my memoir in poetry.  Occasionally, I take a course or read a good book, and of course, I read lots of poems.  Obviously I have no formal training.  But it's been a healing thing for me to write this way.  It would be wonderful if occasionally a poem speaks to someone else.  I write with you in mind.

The story of how I got to where I am today in Central California (and not Nashville) I have shared with some of you.  One, my dear friend Mary, made the trip with me and I will ever be grateful for her companionship.  Some of you followed our "Thelma and Louise" journey across I-40 on the Shutterfly web site.  It took about three months to empty my house and plan the trip, but one day we did stand near the Morro Bay rock and celebrate that we had actually made it to California.  But the hard part was agreeing with God that this was what I needed to do:  move near my daughter and her family to help care for my latest grandson.  As I look back over my journal entries of a couple years, I can see how God prepared me for this move.  With all my heart, I love my Tennessee kids and grandkids, but when my California girl surprised us with a pregnancy, I felt the urgency.  I needed to stand in for her so she (and her husband) could go back to work feeling peaceful, knowing that baby Eli would be well cared for.  I had been praying for a job to do, and this was clearly God's answer.  I do not know how this will come to a conclusion yet, but I don't need to.  God was in this situation before I knew about it, God helped me drive here and God will guide me into the future.  

Since I've promised that this blog contains poetry, I will share my latest poem. I'd be happy to see your comments.  

A MODERN VERSION OF PSALM 23

It has been found on good authority (a Hebrew scholar no less)
That the Shepherd image is a bad translation of Psalm 23.
For fifty years or more I have read, recited even, “The Lord is
My shepherd.”  But now I learn that I am not a sheep and He
Is not a shepherd.  I always knew it didn’t mean that literally,
Of course.   I mean, we are talking of God here, and me,
And you, people not animals.  So what does it say, then, this
Lovely but confusing poetry of a millennium or two ago?
According to my excellent source, we could say something like
“The Lord the Mighty Creator, Redeemer, All Loving, Holy One”
Is so connected, so committed to me, to particular me, to my
Protection and wellbeing, that should I need to, I could call
To Him and He would be right there.  He would not come a
Minute too late.  The wild beasts in my life—the bill collectors or
Bankers or car dealers or anyone else may attack, but my Captain,
My King, my /Father/Mother/Husband God is there for me.
I can relax.  He has this.

Amen!