time studies us intently a thoughtful potter slowly moving clay who holds the minutes and the clay, and each of us? surely only a grasp unbreakable can fashion porcelain jfig 7/21 I saw friends today, and last week - some of whom I hadn't seen in a long time. We are all different, never going 'back' to exactly the same. Old benchmarks of our knowing one another will be important in allowing us to catch-up quickly. So will listening, really listening, to where each of us has hung out and taken sustenance through these long seasons of 'social disconnect.' It feels important, as this poem hopefully indicates, to know how we are formed, and reformed throughout life; to have this grounding knowledge of oneself, and be able to articulate it in a way that allows others to know us, too. I hope, that in addition to being emptied out, you have been filled up during these long months of processing grief and uncertainty and probing questions of justice. I hope you have been filled up with the life-giving sustenance of that which matters. The theme keeps coming back - of all the things that matter, one of the most essential, is you. jfig
She Only Said It Once
Her ‘voice’ barely registered
skimming along the fibers of my optic nerve.
A concise, comprehensive gesture—
it’s in there.
In my haste
to keep us moving toward task completion
(that trajectory of necessary stuff
like getting to work, being prepared)
In my haste
she ‘spoke’ of something else,
missed my question.
Thank God, I did not scold
just kept parroting my question.
But she only answered once.
Twenty minutes later…
when I stopped looking everywhere else,
and listened to her,
she forgave me;
but that is her story.
My daughter Brie, is 22 years old. Clinically speaking, she is nonverbal, as well as discernibly developmentally delayed. In practice, however, she is at times profoundly articulate. This was one of those times.
Brie works two days per week at a farm supply store. Stellar job coaches, engaged co-workers and graciously committed administration support her efforts. It is almost magical. Brie enthusiastically wears a vest that identifies her as part of the store family and the legacy that goes with it. She excels at go-backs, and job-site morale. Work was item #4 on the day’s list. We couldn’t find her vest.
As we prepared (in advance, I might say) for her work shift plus line-items 5 and 6, I said, “Brie, it would help if you found your vest for work. It is almost time to get in the car.” We finished putting on shoes and I left to load up activities 5 and 6. When I came back, she sat in the same spot, closing the zippers on her overnight bag ( she likes fasteners). No sign of the vest. It is not in its place in the closet. Not to worry, I think I have seen it… Where did I see it last? Vest or no vest, it is time to get in the car. As Brie buckles in, I ask her, “Where, ” and she makes one clean gesture toward her bag. Meanwhile I am looking: Perhaps it is in the horse bag, or still in the car from Monday…This may seem inane disorganization to you, but we take really good care of that vest. I could not find it in any of the places I had ‘last seen it.’
” I know you are excited about your overnight bag (item #6), but right now we need to find your vest…” By this time Brie and the bag were in the car, and I was still talking to the air about finding the vest – for twenty minutes. Finally, we had to leave, so I grabbed the back-up vest, lacking her radio headphone safely stowed in the pocket; when it dawned on me that Brie had answered my question. Once. And I had failed to listen. I underestimated her listening and her capability and the completeness of her response – repeatedly.
Woe to me, when I am too busy multitasking to listen to a quiet, less frantic, vulnerable voice. Whoa to me when I am too busy getting the job done, to regard and listen to another who is participating in that work.
In practice, Brie is sometimes profoundly articulate: some of my friends would say, Jenny, you are being too hard on yourself. She couldn’t say it out loud, and that would have eliminated the disconnect. (It has been a twenty-two year decoding journey.) But that would miss the point. She can’t answer me in words. Or in sign language. Or with a voice box. She can’t answer me in the kind of voice that I am most used to hearing. She answered me with a gesture, with the means at her disposal, and I failed to listen. If I listen, with understanding, only to those who speak in ways familiar or readily comprehensible to me…perhaps I need to change my pattern of listening.
Some further thoughts: I probably understand Brie in real time, better than anyone else on the planet (except perhaps my husband.) If we are invested and willing, yet still falling short; how narrow is her window for being understood?
How reflective is this incident of my finesse in listening to others who speak in a form to which I do not gravitate, of matters less readily understood? I am not comfortable with loud, angry voices. I am not attuned to all forms of oppression. I can tell you I do not like assumptions being made based on the color of my skin. In Brie’s case, as a parent, it is my job to ask Brie to be respectful and appropriate. To work on maturing. But it is my job, my choice, my privilege, to listen. Am I willing to miss critical information because I cannot fully appreciate the way it is delivered? Or will I choose to learn something new, in order to understand, to facilitate someone else’s better today?
Am I in charge? Not really… How willing am I to listen to others’ good ideas about effective solutions?
In spite of all we thought we learned from the early months of Covid 19 about caring for one another, and what I thought I knew about prejudice; I am invited anew in 2020, to pause in my frantic hurry to where I am going, and listen to those whose stories are different, whose needs are different, whose dreams may be different, but at the core, sound strangely familiar. To choose to listen, for the nuances behind the content and method without assuming that those voices sound strange to my ear because they are somehow less capable or accurate. To first lose the oppressions in how I listen, in order to lose the oppressions in living.
jfig lessons of 2020
When pain is raw
out there pulsing on the floor
like a live thing—
wiggle room is scarce.
When pain thunders deep and wide
beneath one’s breastbone,
the fortitude to engage grace—
give and receive
When suffering is long…
we don’t really know how long,
unless one asks, or has been there
seasons of the journey.
Mud and muck cling to one’s shoes
and laughter bursts
at hidden ridiculousness.
Oh, God, let us
keep sharing laughter
in journeys long and deep.
When pain is raw
the wiggle room to extend honor—
grace-filled speech and action,
is narrow – barely squeezing by
CAUTIOUSLY: so I don’t tear open wounds
that might just begin to heal.
My power to heal
to effect and sustain change
is only so great as the source from which I draw it.
Come to the well, dear sister.
Come to the well.
I am talking to me.
After a career-long of assessing and addressing pain, it remains apparent to me, that each person’s pain, is enough. That our service is not so much to avoid or get rid of it, but to hold it with and for one another, in order to strengthen what remains. To carry it for seasons, in often less than capable hands, through the grey dusk of mourning, while we wait together for healing to come.
It is not hidden in scripture, that God commissions his followers to heal. I love the passage in Luke 10:1-11, regarding this commission:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. Luke 10:1(ESV)
Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ Luke 10:8-11(ESV)
I love that we are sent – invited to go – where Jesus himself is about to attend. I love that we are invited to bring Jesus close to the hurting. I’m reassured that we are given permission to leave when we are not wanted. That we are not meant to carry away with us, the weighty dust of, ‘You are not welcome here.’ That we are meant to leave with the attitude of our message intact: Nevertheless, the kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus also reminds his followers, (vs. 20) that the thing to be celebrated, is not the ‘works’ they have done, the authority they have wielded over demons. The thing to be celebrated is that they are among the company of those who have received grace unto salvation. The thing to be celebrated is grace. So far as I can tell, none among any of us is given the authority to say who receives grace unto salvation. None.
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 (ESV)
Raw pain demands our attention. We look at our smallish hands, stunned…how can we, as individuals, as a society, hold this much pain? “Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.” Oh, that I might be a bearer of the kingdom… with smallish hands.
The story in Luke 8, where Jesus, in the middle of a crowd, is called to the bedside of a dying girl, speaks. The child is ‘about 12 years old.’ Jesus is detained in responding. He chooses to be detained, to engage a woman who grasps his robe, pleading for help. She has been bleeding for 12 years. As long as the young girl has been alive. Each person’s pain is enough. Jesus attends to all: to the girl and to the woman; to the father oppressed by fear. He draws each of them up with kindness. He also has choice words for the ‘advocates’ in both situations. Please see Luke 8:40-56
“Luke 8:1 (NLT) – Soon afterward Jesus began a.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Jun, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/luk/8/1/p1/s_981001>.
Jesus, may I be one who bears the news of your healing presence, as you draw near to those who are hurting. May I quiet myself enough to realize where you are about to make yourself known; what town you would have me visit. Open my eyes, not just to the pain of the one who is dying a distance far-off, but also to one who is bleeding out along my path. Help me choose to carry kindness, the comfort of your impending presence. Give me caution to not fan the flames of false heroics, nor torch anyone with my words, or actions, but to look for the fire of Your Spirit in the night sky, and follow where you lead. Follow you toward hope and healing, toward freedom and abundant life. Gird me with patience to hold the pain of others, its hot unwieldy expressions; that together we might see the healing dawn of your powerful grace; watch you resurrect life from the ashes of our self-absorption and hatred, our disdain for others, and woefully, for You. We need you, Lord Jesus. We need you, Father God. We need you, Holy Spirit. Bring your healing love that honors and resurrects life in the tiniest of increments. Come Lord Jesus. Amen
“Luke 10:1 (ESV) – After this the Lord appointed.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Jun, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/luk/10/1/p1/s_983001>.
“Scripture quotations marked ESV are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
Photo: Corinthians 1:8-11
Today is day 2 of ‘springing forward;’ which usually feels like ‘dragging, one-step-at-a-time,’ in order to adjust to a new schedule. As I accompanied my daughter, on her distracted and dawdling way to the bus, I marveled anew, that in spite of her profound array of special needs, she can pretty much daily show up with a cheerful attitude and not too much coaxing and cajoling. The ‘pretty-much-every-day’ is what gets me.
As we trundled our way to the bottom of the hill, dawn crept up the sky; this dawn, unedited and extravagant, delivering a message. I was struck dumb, and continue struggling to find words. Even after the bus had come and gone, I stood still and let the majesty and the magnitude of God’s unspoken words wash over me.
I am here. Every day. Showing up.
Though the air is unseasonably warm this morning, there is a brisk wind out of the southeast – that too, an atypical direction. I could feel it picking up as God continued to paint the sky.
I am here in the storm. I was here BEFORE the storm.
I’ve been in what feels like a crop-flattening storm lately, so those words are ponder-worthy: What does it mean for God to have been here, displaying His Glory, before the storm? And why, today, does he deliver a message, not quietly on paper, but painted and wind-propelled, across the whole sky? In one instant, the sky was 157 degrees of pink, from southeast to west-northwest. Before the day even started…
If God can paint the sky east to west, can he not then paint a life, my life, a different shade of storm-cellar grey? Can he not at least ‘brighten up’ my perspective? Can he not transfigure the bleak questions of this season; questions of fear and unknowing and loss, into some realization of the beauty of his goodness? Some realization of who he is, starling though it is against that stark grey backdrop?
We’ve been reading the book of Mark during this pre-spring.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
"Mark 9:1 (NIV) - And he said to them." Blue Letter Bible. Web. 13 Mar, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mar/9/1/p1/s_966001>.
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him” This after Jesus has told them he must suffer and be killed and rise again. Can you imagine the questions in their minds? ‘Listen to him’…after his stark announcement of impending suffering, even death?
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.” This… after the radiance, and a sighting of Elijah and Moses. Wouldn’t that still one’s run-on of questions just for a moment? Storm and light, juxta-positioned.
I feel like God completely transfigured the sky this morning. Midst the dismay of surveying what I have presumed to be ‘Crop damage’ from the storms in our life, I feel a bit like Peter, I’ve experienced a great sense of loss and some hyper-anxiety. What to do, think, feel, say??? So when Peter suggests doing something…ANYTHING…I can relate. But perhaps I should still the questions, and listen…
I was here, before the storm. “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”
And from another story, I am here, in the storm; “Why are you so afraid?”