“Show Me How Big Your Brave Is”

Whenever I thought about what to write today, the words of this song reverberated in my head and I could hear Sara Bareilles belt out, “I wanna see you be brave!”  So…back to the theme of “Fear Not.”

I really don’t know what to add to these lyrics. Except that they reiterate the significant impact words have in our lives. They can wound or heal and have power that lasts beyond the speaker’s own life and breath.  The writer of this song would agree that the claim “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a vicious lie. I chanted this in elementary school and maybe you did too. It was only a paper shield against sharp-edged words. “Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do…”

“Brave”

You can be amazing. You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug. You can be the outcast or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love or you can start speaking up.

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do when they settle ‘neath your skin, kept on the inside and no sunlight. Sometimes a shadow wins, but I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave with what you want to say and let the words fall out. Honestly I wanna see you be brave.

Everybody’s been there. Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy, fallen for the fear and done some disappearing, bow down to the mighty. Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue. 

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. Maybe one of these days you can let the light in. Show me how big your brave is.

And since your history of silence won’t do you any good, did you think it would? Let your words be anything but empty. Why don’t you tell them the truth? 

Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave with what you want to say and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.

I wanna see me be brave, too!  To speak up, to stop holding my tongue, to let the light in, to be truthful – all great advice. But because what we say is so very important, I hesitate to simply “let the words fall out,” lest my words become the ones that harm. I want to be bold and daring, yet discerning. And ultimately, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

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Keep This Going

In addition to the November novel-writing mania and the blog-a-day quest, there is the November PAD (poem a day) Chapbook Challenge, with a prompt for each day. Yesterday’s goal was to “take the phrase ‘Keep This (blank),’ replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: “Keep This a Secret,’ ‘Keep This Letter,’ ‘Keep This Moment,’ or ‘Keep This Poem.'”

After a tiring round of mental calisthenics, mind-jump-roping over all the potential phrases associated with keep, and looking it up in the dictionary and the concordance, I eventually settled on the following:

Keep This Going

This life won’t keep.

Just keep your lamp burning, dressed, ready for service.

Keep these words within your heart,

for there is a time to keep and a time to give away.

When you keep on doing what you do not want to do, follow Him

who keeps your foot from falling,

who keeps you in perfect peace.

Keep yourself in God’s love

for He will keep His promises.

Finish the race, keep the faith.

Keep this going.

Pusillani….What???

One of my reasons for starting this blog a couple years ago was to consider all of the Bible verses that use phrases like “fear not,” “be not afraid,” “be strong and courageous,” etc. I have veered from this topic multiple times, but for some reason, the topic of fear keeps circling around, like an onion that I peel back layer by layer. There is so much to learn, so many angles and depths to explore, so many varieties of fear to shed.

This morning when I scrolled through recent emails, the Dictionary.com “word of the day” caught my attention – pusillanimous! What a horrid word, I thought, wondering if it had something to do with the seeping or oozing matter from an infection. I enjoy learning new words, but this one sounded repulsive. I immediately decided it would probably not be printed and saved in my growing file of “words to write about.”  The pronunciation begins with pyoo, similar to putrid, I suppose. Not any better.

Then I read the definition of this adjective and realized that this word could be used to describe ME! I held my breath.

1. lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid.  2. proceeding from or indicating a cowardly spirit.

Origin: Pusillanimous is derived from the Latin words pusillis meaning “small’ and animus meaning “spirit.”

Literally – a small spirit.

I do not want to be this person, one who lacks courage or resolve, one who is faint of heart or cowardly. I do not want a small spirit to define who I am. It seemed like my aversion to the word itself transferred to the definition and then to the part of me that it described. Being timid is one thing, but being pusillanimous?  I  don’t  think  so!!!

How ironic that an obscure word would point me back to THE Word. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [a small spirit], but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Tim. 1:7.

May powerful, loving, and self-disciplined be the words that define you and me today.

On Singing a Tune Without the Words

“Hope” is the Thing with Feathers
        by Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

I’m not sure how the hours passed so quickly today, but the midnight bells will soon ring, and I have “miles to go before I sleep.” Poems keep popping up in my brain, so that is what I will post. I love this image of hope as a bird, a bird that sings a tune without the words (that’s how I’m feeling – just no words tonight). Hope is what you cling to when there are no words, I suppose.
Even a storm won’t stop this little Bird, nor will it be abashed. Yes, I looked it up to be sure – abash means to embarrass, to disconcert, to make ashamed or uneasy. A wordless Hope doesn’t have to be embarrassed, ashamed, or uneasy (nor do I…nor anyone who clings to Hope).
Does a bird ever beg or ask for a crumb? Yet it will offer its song, a quiet kind of confidence. Like Hope, perching in the soul, it costs nothing, but it means everything.
“We who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.” Hebrews 6:18-19
May all those who read this be filled with hope today and listen for its song.

Slowing Down Time

I love it when a theme comes together, don’t you? Several things happened today that convinced me to write about the concept of time. Our 16 year-old exchange student came into the kitchen at her usual time this morning and asked why it was so light out. I explained that we set our clocks back on Saturday night so that we could have more sunlight in the morning. The idea of saving time or changing time for our benefit seemed hard to describe to someone with limited English skills. There are practical reasons for “saving the daylight,” but we really don’t gain any time. An hour is still 60 minutes and a day is still 24 hours.

Years ago I wrote about the significance, or insignificance, of knowing what time it was while waiting in a hospice room for a loved one to pass away.  I couldn’t immediately find the piece (it was taking too much time to look for it!), but today’s Word of the Day that showed up in my inbox was “horology,” a noun meaning “the art or science of making timepieces or of measuring time.” Who knew? We all measure time in some way, so does that make us all horologists? According to the Dictionary.com site, “Horology shares roots with the word hour in the Greek term hora, which means ‘time, season, hour.'”

During this season of concentrated writing time, I’m reading “Chapter after Chapter,” by Heather Sellers. Guess which chapter I read today? Chapter 5 — “Slow is Fearless,” where she writes, “There is only one ‘kind’ of time. The moment you are in right now. Staying in the now is essentially a kind of fearless focus. It takes gallons of courage to slow down.”  She also proclaims that slow is good, even great! “Time-soaked writing is good writing.” I need to hear that.

When I was a young girl, I was often called a slow-poke. True, I was frequently the last one in the car when our family went somewhere; it took a long time to do my chores (but in my defense, they were done well!); and I was a lolly-gagger, which I just now looked up to find that it means “to fool around.” In other words, I took my time.

Somewhere along the journey, I began to believe that the idea of “taking time” was negative. In this “git ‘er done” world, faster always seems preferable. But today Heather Sellers set me straight with these words,”You need to take your time. Get it? Take your time? Your writing session, your writing year, your writing life, must be padded, anchored, and illuminated with time to wander, get off track, launch a different writing project, lose yourself in reading, write for no purpose, just to explore. You need leisure writing, reading, walking. You need to play. And you need solitude that is not writing time, too.”  Ahhh.

Days are shorter, leaves are almost off the trees and nature is entering a season of rest, of quiet time, a slowing down time. An hour may still be an hour, but I plan to stretch and savor it as much as possible.

Cultivating Thankfulness

November is a month for writers to cultivate a daily habit of working with words, but it’s also a month for cultivating thankfulness. I read Colossians 3:16-17 today, which, in the NIV, uses these phrases: “singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” and “giving thanks to God the Father.”  The Message version says, “And cultivate thankfulness.”

When I hear the word ‘cultivate,’ I see fields of chopped off cornstalks or soybean plant rubble. A huge John Deere tractor pulls a cultivator behind it, the sharp blades turning summer-hardened soil into rows of loose, loamy dirt. The unharvested plant stems and leaves are worked into the soil to decay and enrich it. Cultivating is a necessary part of the growth cycle, sometimes done in both fall and spring.

The image seems helpful when thinking about thanksgiving. Being truly grateful doesn’t come easily. It requires focus, a turning inward to see and appreciate the value of a gift. The dictionary says that to cultivate is to improve land, but it also means to improve by study, or to encourage. Cultivating thankfulness is like turning the soil of your mind into a place where growth can happen.

The rest of Colossians 3:16-17 is also rich with fertile truths for this month. “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing.”  I may be stretching the comparison a bit too far, but as part of a vast body of writers, each doing their individual work, all with a common goal, I feel connected to and in step with others.

Granted, it’s only Day 2. Yesterday, Rick Warren, in his Daily Hope devotional, said, “Change in your life requires new thinking.”  Is it really possible for me to change from writing a blog post every few months to writing every single day? It’s a mental battle, a mind game for sure!  I find encouragement from the next verse in Col. 3: “Let the word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.”  My goal, when I don’t know what to write about, is simply to let Christ’s words speak. There may be days when I only quote another “Fear not” verse and let it “have the run of the house,” filling my mind with gradual change.

Finally, “And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”

And so begins a month of writing and also a month of “thanking the Father every step of every day.”

Answering the Call to Adventure

NaMoProMo, NaNoPoMo, NaMoNoMa…..say whaaat? How about NaNaNaNa or NoNoNoNo? That’s how I’ve viewed this contest/competition/challenge in the past. It seemed ludicrous to me and I warily eyed those who participated, thinking that they were taunting me with Nah, nah, I can write an insane number of words every day and you can’t! My mental response became No, No! I will not subject myself to this torturous ordeal.  I don’t write fast and I don’t write a lot – two habits you apparently need in order to be part of this gang.

But….this year I’ve reconsidered. Not because I have a novel burning in my back pocket, but because I’ve been wanting to blog more lately. And I’m out of excuses.

Years ago, Luci Shaw wrote that it’s a crime to live cautiously (check out her 2005 book, “The Crime of Living Cautiously: Hearing God’s Call to Adventure”).  She inscribed my book with “For Denise – Adventure is calling.”  Unfortunately, one can hear a call and not answer. I know this all too well. It would be easy for a jury to convict me on multiple counts, for not answering the call and for living too cautiously.

So when I read that poets and bloggers and other non-novel writers can jump on the November writing bandwagon too, I thought, “Why not?” I will take the challenge, answer the call, and get my words out there. It will be an adventure. Right?  (“Right?” repeats the cautious soul.)

I had to look it up. NaBloPoMo means National Blog Posting Month. I’m sticking with that. No more NaNa or NoNo for me.

Singing in the car wash

Three full days of speakers, workshops, book-browsing, ruminating, walking, talking, listening – Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing motivated and inspired me to return to writing once again. But isn’t it easy to slip back into the same daily patterns and let the same old soundtrack repeat in your head? Just a few days after the conference, I felt like I was beginning the procrastination plan all over, in spite of Anne Lamott’s advice to just sit in the chair and stay there, and Richard Foster’s admonition to just yell NO! to all worthy distractions.

I had been thinking about how I wanted this post-mountain-top-experience to be different and in my ordinary, errand-filled, task-driven day, I drove my car up to the car wash and heard singing. My radio wasn’t on and I thought it strange that the car ahead of me would have its window down as the attendant sprayed it with water. Then I realized that the young man with shoulder-length dark hair was rhythmically fanning the water hose while singing aloud. Enthusiastically, he circled the car in front of me, spraying and singing in his beautiful baritone voice.

He stopped for a moment to wiggle his fingers and guide me forward when it was my turn. I showed him my receipt, he smiled and said, you’re all set, and off he went to spray my car and sing some more. As my car began to slowly glide through the swirl of foam and the swish of soapy water, I smiled too. He was practicing his art. Doing the mundane didn’t keep him from music-making and spirit-lifting.  Fear or embarrassment didn’t stop him from doing what he obviously loved to do.

Why did he make such an impact on me? I wasn’t sitting in an auditorium with a notebook on my lap, but his passion spoke to me and I took note. Practicing one’s art isn’t selfish at all, especially when it’s shared with the world around you. I wanted to go back and thank him for sharing. Maybe I still will.

Here I am…again

A funny thing happened on the way to this blog post. Actually, many things happened, and not all of them are funny. You may laugh if you wish, though, because the circuitous wanderings are ludicrous. It’s taken many months to come this far and the encouragement to travel to this point has come from many directions, including my loving daughter, many friends, and fellow writers. I even made a promise to a dear “accountability” friend to write 5 blog entries before Nov. 5. (Yes, I’m well aware that date is drawing nigh.)

I’ve written some articles, but never revised or posted them. That’s kind of like mapping out your journey and then spontaneously choosing to go a different route. One topic I addressed was on “The Writer’s War.” Shortly after that, I heard about Steven Pressfield’s book, “The War of Art,” which is now on my to-buy list.  Truly, I feel like I’ve been in a war, but how much of it is self-induced, I wonder as I wander. 

Today, going through cyper-space on my way to WordPress, I read and replied to several emails about piano lesson rescheduling, looked over and printed a 23-page paper I have to edit, read a few other people’s blogs, purchased a Groupon, renewed my membership to a professional organization, read some more emails, and oh yes, took several side trips to the kitchen (refilled my coffee cup, crunched some chips, finished the vanilla yogurt – with added coconut and sunflower seeds – yum!), and even traveled to the bedroom closet for slippers for my chilly feet!  It was quite a journey, all these side trips and delays at scenic points along the way. 

Somehow, all of the writing ideas I had after my devotional time this morning have disappeared. (Picture a car-top carrier that wasn’t securely fastened, releasing its contents to the wind while the car blithely rolls along.) I will go back and find them, rescue the thoughts when I see the underlined words, but meanwhile, I am here, typing, putting sentences together, trying to move forward.

I also watched an author’s interview video this morning (Pete Wilson, promoting his new book about hope). He commented about the past, and letting it be the past, not impacting today. It occurred to me that hope does not look back, only forward. So I will be grateful for this moment, this feeling of freedom and release that accompanies the act of writing, without judgment, regret, or fear of failure. Getting to this point is the difficult part. Being here feels great. So I hope to be back again soon, maybe with a more direct route to the right (writing) place.

A mother’s sacrifice

Part of the message at church this morning flicked on a light switch for me. It was on the topic of “Tabernacle,” not exactly a typical Mothers’ Day focus. But one of the passages was from Exodus 26, “Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn…”

Immediately, a poem came to mind, one I wrote years ago, about Hannah and the sewing she did for Samuel, the son she prayed for and then gave away. (You can read about this amazing mother in I Samuel 1 and 2.) The part about the fine twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn used for the curtains reminded me that I had used similar words to describe the robe Hannah made for Samuel every year. The Bible doesn’t say what color it was, but in my mind, I saw her using these royal colors.

This story fascinates me because I cannot fathom the sacrifice she made when she gave up her son to Eli the priest when he was only a toddler (my Bible’s footnote says it was customary to nurse children for three years or longer and she gave him away right after he was weaned.)

When I wrote this poem, I was trying to imagine what it would be like to “raise and release” a child before he turned five. It’s hard enough to release your children when they’re adults! This telling detail kept coming back to me, “Moreover his mother made him a little coat (some translations say “robe”), and brought it to him from year to year…” (I Sam. 2:19)

So in honor of all mothers, whether you’re still raising or in the process of releasing (it’s an ongoing struggle for me), here is a look at Hannah’s promise.

A Promise Kept

This fine-twined linen of
gold, blue, purple, scarlet,
simply sewn, skillfully embroidered –
a perfect garment for my child-priest.

I fold it carefully,
one sleeve over the bodice,
then the other directly on top.

If only I could watch him, day after day,
watch as these sleeves shrink
and the hem shortens,
follow the flow of this garment
as he rushes to his duties,
see him obey with youthful energy,
pleasure, pride.

Instead,
his visage is etched on my mind.
And imagination must conjure up
his features’ subtle changes.

Over the long trek to and from the temple, I continue to wonder,
Will he realize
this perfect linen,
hues of gold and blue and purple and scarlet
is my tear-stained watercolor,
a rainbow stitched with trembling hands.