Chasing a Smile

A poem written for a friend.

Clouds in a dark sky

Seeking a smile
A smile that fled with innocence
With the discoveries that came
When I opened my eyes
I saw a rainbow
I saw beauty in droplets of rain
Each reflecting the light from where he fell
Each assigned his place among others
Each being, part of a whole
In my place, I reveled
I frolicked

But then, I looked around

I understood

You didn’t see the whole
You saw the differences
Differences between you and I
Differences in reflection, that become
Differences in complexion
The whiter, the brighter
(The better, you thought—then you said)

My place in the rainbow was lesser
My smile faltered
Slipped on the raindrops
Fled into the clouds

Following my smile, into the clouds
I fled too. I have decided.
I’ll make my own place
I’ll reflect my own light
I’ll show everyone
That I am ME.
I’m different.
I’m unique.
I’m not meant to occupy that spot
That I woke up in.
I can be
Whatever, whomever I want to be

So I shut my eyes tight
To block out the light
I cover my ears
Shout as loudly as I can
From the center of the clouds
Tell them to LOOK!
See what I’ve become!
See what I’ve made myself into—
See ME!
HEAR me!
But it seems that no one cares
No one hears
No one sees or understands
Except a precious few who followed me into the clouds

The problem is, I still
Can’t find my smile
My smile is not visible
Without the light of the Sun

Dream with Me

It’s 7:22am and the sky is lightening with the coming of the sun, invisible as it is, hidden behind the clouds on most wintry days. But on this morning, this day, as I don’t mind that invisibility, that absence. A misty fog blankets the park across the street from my house, making the stark, bare trees look like a faded painting and kissing the ground to blend in with the snow. It’s beautiful and it was completely unexpected.

God does some of his best artistic work in the mornings. That’s one reason the early mornings are my favorite time of day—especially the time of year when those mornings come earlier and earlier, filling hearts with the promise of growth, of green, of new things to come. Those days aren’t here quite yet, but so much brightness before daybreak—and before 7:30am—is a welcome sight.

I was going to include a photo, but some of God’s best work is better left to the imagination and the memory than to a camera.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating what it means to be an artist, an artist who’s a Christian. An artist who’s a writer. A writer who is called to, well, write. Write and serve. That is also what I’ve spending my “extra” time doing—that time I have left over from reducing my full-time hours as a writing instructor to part-time. I’ve been watching my instructor-me hours dwindle away, putting the best that I can into those 30 hours a week until they come to an end in the spring, and putting those other ten hours into reading, writing, journaling, and practicing (in private) being a writer. A servant-writer, one who uses her gifts to build up others, whether by writing herself or encouraging other artists to write and to create.

Can I tell you that I’m loving it? I’m loving the hours I’ve been able to spend reading about writing, reading about using the creativity God instilled in each of us to serve his kingdom and to serve him.

Can I also tell you that, sometimes, I’m afraid of it? Afraid of falling flat on my face, of disappointing my family through my efforts (and by family, I’m using both senses of the word—my earthly family and my church family). Afraid of not completing the work God has set aside for me (Ephesians 2:10).

But—but—I’m also excited. So excited to see what God will do. I’m someone who has always loved the excitement of anticipation, and the thought of knowing that God’s dreams are so much more than I could even expect or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) makes that anticipation even better. Because if I’m looking at life through his perspective? I can know, with certainty, that he won’t disappoint. Not that everything will be sunny and bright and full of singing and dancing like my favorite musicals, but knowing that whatever is to be is in God’s hands—that’s what is worth the anticipation.

As I was exploring this morning (reading about writing from a songwriter/author’s perspective), God sparked my imagination. In his book Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, the author, Andrew Peterson, encouraged readers to practice the craft—to keep practicing, so that perhaps what we create will be used in ways and in hearts that we do not expect to touch. He used the example of a seventeenth-century poet whose work he read and cried over, and then wrote,

Maybe the song you’re writing is for one specific heartbroken soul who won’t be born for another four hundred years. Maybe you won’t meet him or her until the New Creation, and they’ll thank you for opening yourself up to public scrutiny, for striving to arrange the words just so, for learning about what makes for a good melody or tight phrasing. (142-143)

Songwriter, I am not. But a writer, yes. And as I read this, the thought of the future and the new creation hit me, and my imagination strayed into territory that I’ve been hovering around for weeks and months.

An old friend—Mike—used to berate me for speaking in leaps and bounds, and make me explain my train of thought before he would let me go on, and I think that may be appropriate here because my imagination took a giant leap with this one.

Writing and artistry and creativity and servanthood, for me, are wrapped up together in this thing I’ve come to see as God’s call on my life. I can look back and see how the paths I’ve taken have led me here, to where I am about to step out in faith into unknown territory of trusting God with my finances (and, tied in with that, my kids’ education) and my time to create something new, something he has planned just for me. Writers, though? We crave readers. It’s true. We want people to read what we write, and we want to make an impact (thanks, Martha) somehow, some way, even if it’s just a little one (but hopefully it’s a big one). In my case, I am praying and hoping that whatever I do with my writing, God will use it to make an impact in a lasting way, in a way that touches (and maybe even softens) hearts and souls. So the thought of something I write lasting 400 years or more to reach out and touch someone far in the future—that’s a wild thought. Unthinkable. Crazy unimaginable, and crazy thrilling at the same time. And then I thought, What if what I write lasts longer? For all of eternity?

And here’s the point, the dream. But it comes with a disclaimer, one that lets you know my only intent is to dream, and ask you to dream with me. I’m not a theologian and I’m sure there are several of them out there who would argue with what I am about to write, but I’d just like to share a What If with you and ask you to use your own imagination: What If?

What if what we create here on earth—our paintings, our drawings, our dances, our songs, our poetry, our writing—those we create with a listening ear, with fingers and hands and bodies and spirits that follow God’s Spirit into the artistic endeavor, are some of the treasures that Jesus encourages us to store up for ourselves in heaven (Matthew 6:20)? What if what’s waiting for me at home is the “best” of what I’ve written here on earth, not because it’s of the highest quality, but because its coauthor was guiding me in the writing? What if some of what makes it through the fire (1 Corinthians 3:13) without turning to ashes are my written words?

Recently, I combed through a chest of memories—treasures—and in it was a packet of materials my mom had saved—my earliest drawings, artwork, and stories. Some of them contained her hand-written notes, dates and descriptions of what they were meant to be. I know this was only a small selection of what I must have produced in my childhood, and I know that she spent hours curating collections that represented the most precious and best of my and my siblings’ work. Someday, Lord-willing, I’ll have the courage and time to sift through my own children’s work. I can imagine God doing the same for us.

In my journal this morning I wrote, “What if God, like a mother who loves to see her children develop and grow and is proud of them at every stage, is keeping some of these things for us—preserving them so that at some time he can take us through his treasure trove and tell us stories of what he loves about them, and us?”

And I imagined.

Rhonda, remember that woman who visited your second-grade class and taught you how to write haiku poetry? Remember how she praised your poem, and from that moment on, when you were being true to yourself and the calling I put on your life, you wanted to be a writer? I kept that poem because it was the first time you heard my whisper clearly, even though at the time you didn’t know it was me. Here it is. This poem that you wrote in second grade is precious.

And guess what else? Here is the woman who inspired you. I know that for you she has remained faceless and nameless for decades, but I’d like you to meet her. She faithfully carried and delivered my message for you. She, also, did her work well.

What if? What if you imagined? What if what we dare to create lasts longer than we dare to dream? Think about it, and if you will come along with me.

Dream with me.

Come Walk with Me

Last month, I received a text from a friend: “Enjoy this fall weather. I’m imagining you in the trails.” When I confessed that I hadn’t even contemplated it, because I hadn’t had the time—the two-month hiatus from this blog is a testament to just how busy I’ve been—she replied, “I say make the time.”

Make the time.

This friend of mine, she knows me. Knows I love being in nature, love the trails, and love the hours I spend hiking, soaking in the beauty of creation, and capturing bits of it through my camera lens. Maybe she also knows those hours alone in the woods are not really spent alone. When I venture onto the trails, I do so with expectation: I expect to meet God there, and I’m never disappointed. That day, I recognized the suggestion that came through my friend’s text for what it was: an invitation from Jesus to take a walk with him.

Come, make the time to walk with me.

A boardwalk covered with fall leaves in the woods.How could I refuse an invitation like that? I couldn’t. I didn’t. A few days later, I took to the trails in my favorite state park and Jesus met me there. We spent hours together roaming, talking, listening, laughing, crying, and admiring his creative handiwork. As Jesus walked with me, his presence was tangible—so tangible that his peace and joy overwhelmed me.

Have you ever heard that invitation? Your invitation may not be one to venture into the woods, but wherever there is for you, the invitation is present nonetheless: Come, make time for me. Spend time with me. Make the time to walk with me. Jesus’ Holy Spirt whispers—sometimes even shouts—an invitation to every heart including yours and mine (Revelation 3:20). You’ll be able to hear it if you are willing to listen (Acts 28:27).

A boardwalk in a marsh with fall foliage in the background. Jesus knew I needed his invitation. He knew what was coming. He knew I’d need the reminder of what it feels like to walk in step with him.

In the intervening weeks since that walk, I have fallen further and further behind in what seems like everything—work, home, service, life in general. I have felt the distance between my present reality, my dreams for it, and my heart grow. I’ve struggled through the gamut of emotions, having been immersed in surprise, anticipation, excitement, discouragement, exhaustion, joy, grief, anxiety, sorrow, and longing. In the busyness that has been my life, in the hectic chaos of my “ordinary day to day,” I’ve found myself longing for deceleration, for order, for a retreat. I’ve also been hoping against hope that a neon sign will light up the sky, labeled with my name, and point the way to the path I’m supposed to be on—even if I’m already on it. I’m quickly approaching a crossroads in my life and career, and a little reassurance wouldn’t hurt.

A boardwalk through a marsh and into a fall forest. What I’ve found is that God doesn’t often send neon signs to light up the sky. At least I haven’t seen any—and I try to keep my eyes open (yes, Acts 28:27 again). Sometimes God does send clouds, pillars of fire (Nehemiah 9:12), stars (Matthew 2:2), and/or people with clear directives (Acts 22:14-16) to show people the paths they are to take. But in my life, at least, God seems to like to work through surprises. Surprises, and whispers.

God’s surprises are amazing and astounding. They both exhilarate and terrify me all at once, but on my best days I’m learning to lean into them and just keep walking with him. His whispers, though—they are what speak to my heart. And, I suspect, God’s way of keeping me on my path. Lately, he’s been whispering a very specific message to me.

I am jealous for you.

A hole in a boardwalk with a mossy branch underneath. He is jealous for me. Think about that for a minute. God becomes jealous for me, for us—for us to put him above all else, to love him and be devoted to him (James 4:5). The thought that he is jealous for me—me!—is thrilling. God loves me so much that he is protective of our relationship and of my love. When I recognized that the whisper I had been hearing over and over was for me, personally, it immediately reminded me of way he intimately loves me (Psalm 139:1-6). It overwhelmed me and thrilled me. I adored his jealousy.

Until the whisper kept coming and I realized what it said about me. Then, on top of my adoration, came shame: God wouldn’t become jealous without cause. If he was jealous for me, then I had given him reason to become jealous for me. Like so many times in my past, I had let the chaos, the anxiety, the fill-in-the-blank come between us and take my eyes away from him. But with this realization another whisper immediately followed: I have already forgiven you. Here is my grace (James 4:6).

Red leaf on a boardwalk. That is the reason I can adore his jealousy. Because when we give him a reason to be jealous, he immediately turns to us and gives us more grace. Grace to turn back, take the hand that he offers, and walk in step with him once again.

Do you hear him? He’s whispering to you as much as he is to me.

Come walk with me.

Blue lake in a marsh surrounded by fall trees and a brilliant blue sky, which are reflected in the lake.