Category: metaphors (page 1 of 2)

Naaman and Me

Yesterday in church, a discussion about Naaman caused me to rethink my thoughts about my relationship with God. (I thought I’d just put that right out there at the front, in case you’re here looking for food. There’s no food here today.)

So. Naaman. He’s a great general and a good guy and a leper. One of his servants tells him he can be healed if he goes to see Elisha the prophet. He goes. And Elisha sends a servant to the door, who tells Naaman to have a bath in the river. Naaman is ticked, and his brave and loving servants ask him, “If you’d been told to do something huge, wouldn’t you do it?” (My quotes, not the Bible’s.)

In my congregation, we often talk about this story this way: when the answers are simple (like, go pray more and read more and serve more and do the work you’ve already been asked to do), we revolt, wishing for something that feels somehow More. Bigger. Important-er.

When I hear this story, I say, “Yeah, Naaman. I get you.” And for me, it’s got nothing to do with doing something big.

It has everything to do with who came to the door.

When I pray and beg and plead and gnash my teeth about something that I’m pretty sure God wants me to have anyway, I don’t want to be told to do something bigger or harder. No thank you. The point of my prayer is generally that I’m already doing something harder. No. Not bigger. I just want it to be personal.

I want Him to come to the door Himself. I want to feel heard.

Read the scriptures, I hear. And I respond. Yes. I’m doing that. And I’ve done it. So, so many times. I KNOW these books. It’s a simple thing. But here’s the un-simple part: When I actually do it right, read it with my heart open, I learn to speak God’s language. And when I speak to Him in His language, He answers me in MY language. When that happens, even when the answer is to go ahead and do one of those simple things, I feel more heard. And capable of carrying on. In the times that happens, it’s Enough.

So if I ask for help and my answer is pray more or serve more or go dunk in the river seven times, it’s my job to discover the Voice behind the answer. To find the connection that makes it personal. So I’ll be able, willing, capable of saying, “Okay. I can do that.”

That’s when the miracles happen.

Legend

 

This is the legend of the poet whose pen’s ink ran dry when he attempted to write the truth.

He spent years writing and performing amusing tales and poems and songs, bringing laughter to the lives of people near and far. He kept the tales and poems and songs written in a large leather-covered book, fastened with a strap.

But the tales and poems and songs that lived in his heart were less amusing. There he held the tales of heartbreak, redemption, loss and pain. Sometimes, of an evening, he could sing one of those hidden songs, and the audience who remained to hear would cry hot tears. They would reach out and touch his hands, silently thanking him for understanding the hidden parts of their own hearts.

But when he opened his leather-covered book and attempted to ink the words of those songs inside, his pen’s ink ran dry, leaving no mark but an invisible path in the parchment.

The poet continued to open his mouth and amuse audiences near and far with his tales, and he rejoiced in the laughter that surrounded his performances. But through the joy, an ember of pain burned. The poet wanted, desired, needed to share his other tales, his other poems and songs. And in the crowds of eager, happy listeners, he could see the pain-filled eyes of those who needed to hear the other kind, to read them, to keep them. To reference the true tales and to feel they were not alone.

When the happy crowds wandered away to grin and laugh their way to their beds, the others stepped in from the edges of the circle, closer to the poet. Closer to his laugh-crinkled eyes that now relaxed and shone with another emotion. And now, the poet opened his heart. He poured out tales and poems and songs of the other kind. And his remaining audience nodded their heads, reached out to comfort the strangers among them, grasped hands in solidarity. And after, the poet walked away relieved, the ember of pain still glowing, but surrounded now by peace. And the people, the people nodded and smiled and bowed him on his way, through their tears.

Again and again, he tried to write the deeper tales of his heart. Again and again his pen’s ink ran dry. He scratched the poems into the pages of his book, but no ink flowed from his pen and no marks would rest on the page. He beat his fists against the traitorous pages of his leather-covered book. He snapped his pens into pieces. He flung inkwells until they bled black puddles on the floor.

And then he sat. He sat and gripped his hair in his fingers, pressing the heels of his hands into his aching eyes. He moaned out the words of a heartbreak tale. He sang a song of darkness and redemption. He spoke a poem of loss and pain. With every word, he felt the thump of his heart echo the truth. His heart that held such vast wells of laughter and sadness.

For a time, he sat that way, clutching his hair and feeling his heart send his lifeblood through his body.

The poet picked up an unbroken pen. He opened his leather-covered book to a fresh page. And he scratched out the words that lived in his beating heart. He saw no marks on the page, but he continued to write, the words pouring from his mind and heart through the fragile pen until he saw it. The stain began to flow, a pigment not black but red and rich and alive, beating onto the pages of his book, inking his precious and needful words into the parchment forever. Words that he knew for him must be shared, and for others, must be read.

 

Writing Stories

It’s not just something writer-people do, you know. Everyone does it. When the car goes screaming past, we automatically give the driver a story. I learned a long time ago that the story I give the driver has more effect on the rest of my drive, and maybe my whole day, than I would have expected.

“That maniac. She’s probably hurrying home to hide the evidence of all her vile behaviors before her landlord comes for an inspection.”

“That idiot. If he’d plan his day and leave his house on time, he wouldn’t have to endanger everyone on the road. I’ll bet he’s got his music turned up so loud he can’t even hear sirens when he gets pulled over. There’s probably a shrine to that guy in the police office – Most Valuable Driver.”

These stories give me a tiny moment of satisfaction, and then an afternoon full of righteous indignation. But they’re not the only stories.

“His wife is in labor. They’ve waited so long for this baby, and she’s laughing and crying at the same time in the front seat – all the pain and anticipation blending together into a kind of baby mania, and he doesn’t know how to help her, so he’s hurrying her into the care of someone who does.”

“She’s running to her nephew’s birthday party, and the box turtle she bought him is scrambling up the sides of the crate it’s in. She’s terrified that it might get loose in the car, because there’s nothing she fears more than reptiles (are turtles reptiles?) but no one she loves more than her nephew.”

These stories make me infinitely more glad to be a part of humanity.

When I get a glare from a student or a colleague, I can assume “You hate me,” or I can develop a little backstory that is probably totally inaccurate, but makes me sympathetic to the plights of humanity.

“The babysitter she feared wore a T-shirt that said “The Grapes of Wrath” on it; it’s not me she hates, and it’s not Steinbeck. She’s dealing with long-repressed memories of being forced to eat cold canned peas.”

“He only appears to despise me. In fact, he just found out he’s been assigned to teach driver’s ed this summer, so all his longed-for early morning tee times are wafting away like a puff of smoke.”

Is it likely? Well, no. But it’s not impossible. There’s a chance that it’s not, in fact, about me at all. And there’s a more sympathetic story I can devise. The generous stories don’t change the reality of the manic driving or the glares, but they change the way I feel about it. They change the reaction from a reflex to a choice.

I prefer choice.

Unexpected Sunshine

The days the digital weatherman tells me are going to be full of rain and thunder and lightning…
I kind of look forward to those days.

Sometimes I hunker.
I stay inside, wear sweats, bake yeasty things.

Or I go out, not particularly fussed about my hair,
Because we all know what’s going to happen to the hair when the weather starts weathering.

Or I plow ahead,
Making it to my appointments on time,
Arriving with a smile,
Remembering all the things I’m supposed to remember,
And what do you know?
The clouds part. The light breaks through and lays down perfect tracks of gold across the floor, the lawn, the road.
The sun shines and heats up the soggy ground and releases the springy smell of damp earth.

 

The surprise of it, the gift
Makes the day seem brighter even when the
Thunder rolls back across the mountains.

A Legend for September Days

He spent years writing and performing amusing tales and poems and songs, bringing laughter to the lives of people near and far. He kept the tales and poems and songs written in a large leather-covered book, fastened with a strap.

But the tales and poems and songs that lived in his heart were less amusing. There he held the tales of heartbreak, redemption, loss and pain. Sometimes, of an evening, he could sing one of those hidden songs, and the audience who remained to hear would cry hot tears. They would reach out and touch his hands, silently thanking him for understanding the hidden parts of their own hearts.

But when he opened his leather-covered book and attempted to ink the words of those songs inside, his pen’s ink ran dry, leaving no mark but an invisible path in the parchment.

The poet continued to open his mouth and amuse audiences near and far with his tales, and he rejoiced in the laughter that surrounded his performances. But through the joy, an ember of pain burned. The poet wanted, desired, needed to share his other tales, his other poems and songs. And in the crowds of eager, happy listeners, he could see the pain-filled eyes of those who needed to hear the other kind, to read them, to keep them. To reference the true tales and to feel they were not alone.

When the happy crowds wandered away to grin and laugh their way to their beds, the others stepped in from the edges of the circle, closer to the poet. Closer to his laugh-crinkled eyes that now relaxed and shone with another emotion. And now, the poet opened his heart. He poured out tales and poems and songs of the other kind. And his remaining audience nodded their heads, reached out to comfort the strangers among them, grasped hands in solidarity. And after, the poet walked away relieved, the ember of pain still glowing, but surrounded now by peace. And the people, the people nodded and smiled and bowed him on his way, through their tears.

Again and again, he tried to write the deeper tales of his heart. Again and again his pen’s ink ran dry. He scratched the poems into the pages of his book, but no ink flowed from his pen and no marks would rest on the page. He beat his fists against the traitorous pages of his leather-covered book. He snapped his pens into pieces. He flung inkwells until they bled black puddles on the floor.

And then he sat. He sat and gripped his hair in his fingers, pressing the heels of his hands into his aching eyes. He moaned out the words of a heartbreak tale. He sung a song of darkness and redemption. He spoke a poem of loss and pain. With every word, he felt the thump of his heart echo the truth. His heart that held such vast wells of laughter and sadness.

For a time, he sat that way, clutching his hair and feeling his heart send his lifeblood through his body.

The poet picked up an unbroken pen. He opened his leather-covered book to a fresh page. And he scratched out the words that lived in his beating heart. He saw no marks on the page, but he continued to write, the words pouring from his mind and heart through the fragile pen until he saw it. The stain began to flow, a pigment not black but red and rich and alive, beating onto the pages of his book, inking his precious and needful words into the parchment forever. Words that he knew for him must be shared, and for others, must be read.

 

Gratitude Month, Day 23

Wherein I dust off my kitchen nerdery…

I was making bread. I do this often. Yesterday it was pizza crust. And I know that instant yeast was invented just so I could skip the “proofing” step, but did you know that the proofing step is one of my favorite things? So I put the warm water into the bowl. And I sprinkled in the yeast. And the salt. And, because I wanted to watch it do some fun stuff, a little sugar. And I watched, nose almost touching the rim of the bowl. And the yeast got wet and started to sink down into the water, a few heavy little flecks at a time. Then, as I sat there and smelled the magic yeasty smell, it started to dance. The little flecks of fallen yeast rose up as great blobs of frothiness. In different rhythms and in different places in the bowl, they got their groove on and floated up to the top. I stared as they crowded each other out of the surface and started rising higher, above the water level, until they’d become this frothy, airy cloud of perfect yeasty gorgeousness.

Did you know that yeast will proof and rise without sugar? I make bread without sugar all the time.

But did you further know that if you want to watch it jive like I wanted to watch it jive last night, you need to add a little extra sweetness? There’s a lesson in there for me. I know it.

I am grateful for the things that rise to the top and the sweetness that allows the process to become a beautiful thing.

Romancing the Education

My dad used to tell me I was really good at starting to get into learning about things. I took that as a compliment. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. He meant that I was great at cracking open the surface of knowledge, looking at the sparkly center, and then putting it away. I studied several languages… for a year. I read some great books… once. I learned basic sewing, but never got very good at it. In fact, I can’t do it at all now, but that’s more a decision (and fear of zipper placement) than boredom and inability. I learned how to oil paint for a few months. I took some piano lessons, some flute lessons, and even some bassoon lessons (I am so totally not making this up — I didn’t want to march in the band, so I played the bassoon during class, but I still had to march — I just got to crash cymbals instead of making notes and tunes come out of an instrument — and while we’re at it, the middle school band had a rocking rendition of the Go-Go’s “We’ve Got the Beat” directed by Mr. Leon Enneking). I studied Humanities in college (and yes, I got a degree) — and the very definition of Humanities is learning a little bit about a whole lot of great stuff. (Maybe that’s not the “very definition” but that’s my definition, and this is, as you probably recall, my blog.)

Um.

Still there.

I am a romancer of learning. I love to know a bit about everything (or not everything, as you may choose to look at it).

And I’m not alone.

This week, I’ve made friends with Walt Whitman, which is a riot. Kind of like reading a stream-of-consciousness blog. He’s the best. I’m all kinds of inspired. And listen to this:

BEGINNING MY STUDIES
Beginning my studies the first step pleas’d me so much,
The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,
The  least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,
The first step I say awed me and pleas’d me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.

See? Uncle Walt was romancing the education, too. And look where that got him. He was the quintessential American poet (until Maya — Maya forever).

I got a copy of “Leaves of Grass” from the library this week. It’s the crumbly newsprint copy that holds that old-book funk, making my eyes water and my teeth itch. The cover has a picture of Uncle Walt looking like Santa Claus in his madman’s beard and his suede hat, and carries a purchase price of $1.25 (twelfth printing, 1964). I may be laying all my faults bare today, but I confess I wanted to play with the poems before I committed. I’m ready to commit now. I want to get my own copy. I want it hardbound. I think I’ll buy it for me for my birthday. I’ll add it to the pretty black sweater I bought myself last month and hung in Husband’s closet and the Alice Walker poetry book “Hard Times Require Furious Dancing” which is gorgeous and was 80% off at Border’s last week. And then I’ll stop buying poetry books for myself. And sweaters. And I’ll let someone else wrap them all up for me.

And I’ll revel in the fact that it’s okay for me to romance the education. To peek in. To flirt with knowledge. To date around when it comes to writing style and reading choices and book buying commitments. I can be the jack-of-all, master-of-none, and that is fine. That is me. That is how I learn, how I live, how I love to discover. The things worth working for are there, and they are important, and even crucial, but for me, they all revolve around relationships, not accumulated knowledge.

If it’s different for you, more power, pal. That’s great. I admire the ability and the desire to plumb the depths. And please pardon me while I swim around here in the shallows, enjoying the stunning life in the tidepools, the sunlight playing off the shiny rocks, and the heaviness of the wet sand.

Good Parenting Moment

I had one. I know. It’s amazing because it’s so very, very rare.

Last night I did the Valentine’s dinner, with a little something that was each person’s favorite. That by no means should be misinterpreted to say that everyone liked everything on the table. But everyone ate. And everyone loves stuffed mushrooms. Isn’t that funny?

So while Kids and Husband cleaned up dinner, I snuck upstairs and finished up the object lesson for Family Night. Which went a little something like this.

I put 5 wrapped gifts on the ottoman that serves as coffee table/laundry central. They all had the same wrapping paper (plain white – who knew such a thing was possible?) and a different ribbon (so I could remember what was inside). Then I told everyone to pick one. To pick THE BEST one for them.

Grabbery ensued.

Not really. They all picked until there was only one left, which Kid 4 gave to Husband. Then I asked them how they chose. One kid said that this bow was the best color. So I said, “Good. You chose based on appearance. Okay.” Which made her glance around with a perfect, guilty look on her face. Someone else said, “This one is the one everyone would have chosen if I hadn’t chosen it first.” And I said, “Good. You chose what would make everyone else jealous.” Then, “This one was closest to me.” Which I loved, because it let me say, “Oh, great. I’m glad you didn’t have to do any work for yours.” Husband said, “I didn’t choose.” “Okay. Complacency. Excellent.”

Within two minutes I had them all rethinking their choice.

Ha.

Then I said, “What kind of information would make you sure your choice was right? What if I told you that one of these things cost very little money? One I had to go a specific place to find. One, I searched and searched for. One I could get anywhere. One of these things wouldn’t do most of you any good.” But I didn’t tell them which. I let them sweat for another few minutes. It was great to see them worried about their decision.

Then I brought it home. I told them that Heavenly Father wants to give them gifts. He has gifts for them, and knows what is best. He’s ready to tell them which gifts are best for them if they’re willing to listen.

Then I asked Kid 3 if she would pass her gift over to Kid 1. She did, and was left empty-handed for a minute. I said maybe three more thoughtful things about the Lord’s good gifts (including the part about how sometimes it may feel like everyone has a gift but you, and you need to trust that there is enough to go around) and then orchestrated the hand-off. Everyone was left holding the proper gift, I told them again that God wants to give them the gifts that are right for each of them right now, and let them open their Valentine’s presents.

And there was much rejoicing.

Hey, it doesn’t happen often*, but when it works, we rejoice.

*Clarification: Family Night happens often. Every Monday night. Successful object lessons? Much harder to come by.