only word

8.18 get ready to judge me, holy ones

i’ve added it all up and i worked over ten hours for the last four days in a row. for some of you that’s an insignifcant enough number that you might laugh at it, but for me it was a grueling four days. every night when i would fall into bed exhausted, i knew with a cruel certainty that the next morning would bring more of the same.

every morning when i woke i thanked God for the strength to work hard and provide for myself, asking him for strength to face the grind of an eleven hour day.

i got through it all right, obviously, which might be a metaphor for my whole life, but i’m not that wise just yet. the point is that i made it through okay and i won’t be complaining next thursday when i am payed enough to pay my rent from only four days of work.

actually that’s not the point. something far more disturbing is gnawing at my mind.

last night i clocked off from my last shift, and i had a subtle choice to make. if i hurried there was a reasonable chance that i could make it to the last church service. not that church would have saved my corrupt soul, but it most certainly would have been the place to look for a lasting comfort to my weariness. unlike drugs, jesus doesn’t seem to wear off.

but i didn’t do that, of course. i came home from twelve hours of work and promptly tucked myself up into one of the bars around my house. i drank enough to sooth my aching body, and smoked enough cigarettes to numb my anxious mind. are bars evil? of course not. is it wrong to have a drink after a long day’s work? that’s not what i’m saying so shut up and listen.

this is a bigger lesson about where i turn when i need comfort. when my body has been pushed far past exhaustion, when my mind has been stretched out and left to dry in the hot sun as though it were play-doh.

rather than turning to jesus and asking for comfort from his hand, i immediately turned to alcohol and cigarettes. this concerns me. what does it profit that i am a hard worker if at the end of every work week i numb myself with every passing distraction, drinking from dirty water bottles when the streams of life are there at my feet?

i blame jesus, of course, for not allowing me to enjoy my drinks last night. i blame him for messing with me. i blame him for the fact that after teaching me a lesson about diligence he immediately wanted to talk with me about where i turn from comfort. i blame him for being jealous of my company.

but after i have exhausted all my blaming, i fall asleep and rise to new mercies, and grace that i don’t deserve.

yes, jesus is messing with me, but he’s after my well-being and my lasting joy. i’m not sure if the bar can make the same advertisement.

8.17 willakenzie winery

woke up on a lazy, lonely hill and watched with passive eyes as the seasons grew and died in the valley below. before my eyes your body came and went, rotting with time and the floorboards of the porch where you wait with ever feeble eyes for my shape coming down that dusty road. but i never lived and thus never aged up on this pine-strewn hill.

they trekked up this hill to tell me of your passing but to my ears it was as though another wave of clouds had passed by, and it was an open casket so i caught glimpses, as i always had from my lookout.

these pines will topple in the next bitter winter, my body is brittle as the rocks and i will never die, for i never lived. and they will call this hill my name for ten thousand years, but i would have traded the legend for one kiss from living lips.

i woke myself up from the dreaming on this lazy, lonely hill and plotted a course down through the wheat field waves and dusty roads to a porch where the boards may rot but at least they bloomed flowers for one bright season.

8.15 the truth is a healer

i don’t sleep, the demons only let me drift. he offers rest in all its simple purity.

i don’t swim, i half-drown in a desperate attempt to simply reach the far shore. he calls me out to walk on the waves with him.

this isn’t dancing, this is a frantic distraction to the rhythm of crashing trains. he doesn’t need the show, he loved me at my darkest.

i can’t write stories that aren’t tragedies. he blends even the dissonant tragedy into his joy-soaked symphony.

i don’t ask for help, so i bleed out slowly on a battlefield of my own making. he binds wounds while i was still calling him my enemy.

8.12 variations on a theme

there exists moments too beautiful for poetry. there is a time when all the flowery adjectives are put aside and we melt at the directness of the phrase, “i love you.”

i am overwhelmed by something, and the word we use for it is grace. but when the word comes alive before your eyes, when you feel the healing balm of a gift you don’t deserve, it can easily overwhelm a timid little poet like myself.

the road is dusty, and i am quick to doubt the purpose of this journey. the sun grows hot upon my back and i begin to murmur of being dragged into the wilderness. i turn my head down to the ground and quickly lose myself in the desert of my grumpy mind.

and then into the heat he whispers grace to me in the blessed rainstorm. long after i had burnt a thousand bridges, he still binds my wounds and gives me favor i certainly didn’t earn. he is faithful in his rebuke, but quick in his healing touch. he is merciful.

can you feel his grace in this rainfall? he is making all things new.

8.11 recipe

here follows the recipe for one portion of wallowing. what do i mean by wallowing, you ask, and i’m so glad you did.

to wallow is to know, vaguely or specifically, your problem and, more importantly, to know the solution, yet to choose a sort of lingering with and dwelling on your problem.

first, you must have an excellent pair of headphones. nothing on earth will help your self-pity and self-focus more than a soundtrack to that self-pity. i recommend acoustic driven ballads and any artists with a sound experimental enough that you can’t exactly define the lyrics, these types always do the trick.

next, find patient and selfless individuals who are willing to listen to your drawn out monologues. intersperse among these saints others who are more similar to yourself, that they might slowly fan into flame your self-righteous indignation.

lastly, and this is the truly crucial piece, do not under any circumstances converse with this one they call jesus. seal the cracks of your stone heart and do not let this physician examine the wounds. his diagnosis will be quick, and his prescription devastating to the natural growth of your fleshy wallow.

he will kneel down into the mud where you wallow, he will reach tender hands out to your calloused skin, and he will ask so gently why you hadn’t called out to him sooner.

and you will look up with weary eyes and protest that you never called out to him at all! you want another day at least in this blessedly dirty mud bath.

but despite flailing and best attempts he will begin to clean you off, and you will begin to see your wallowing for what it is and you will sob deeply and cling to him and apologize a thousand times over.

he will let the mud from your skin dirty his white robes, he will kneel there in the mud.

he will not leave you there. he is making all things new.

he will change your wallowing into a joyful song, he would have those who swim in mud puddles to come and dance by clean, strong rivers.

8.4 preaching to myself

tomorrow morning you will wake up to glimpses of light across the sheets or through tree branches or across the colors of the ceiling, and you will be born again from the deepest fearful slumber. have you not heard? he is making all things new.

you will take deep lungfuls from the air around you, and every trouble from the past will be washed away with each rise and fall of your chest. have you not heard? his mercies are new every morning.

and in your trust you will replace the doubts with a clean t-shirt, and your dusty vans will walk no more in the old paths, you will follow the joyful music. can you hear him? come to me all you who are weary.

true, tonight the sun is dying and the bruises are tender. but have a little hope, sailor. remember his promise? i will never leave you or forsake you.

8.1 inevitable nautical themes ensue

more often than not, the right words elude us. we type on, allowing the keyboard to chatter or the pen to bleed, drowning out the obvious, circling the drain but never satisfying our parched lips.

if i were a more gifted writer i would create better scenes in your mind, that you might see black and white truth, rather than these colorful adjectives.

seven hundred questions rebound within four or five inches that make up my skull, while worry claws its holes in my frail heart. 

yet down in the part of my soul that never drowns in these storms, i know that he is up to something, and that something is good. there lies a seed of hope that he alone planted, it will blossom and flourish though a thousand knives of worry stab at it’s tender root. oh how i cling to that tree of life, how i fix my eyes on these truths, though they be hid from view. through clouds that cover the shoreline i catch glimmers of the lighthouse.

i can feel his hands upon my broken life, and there is healing in his touch. so i quiet the raging drunkard that is my worried mind and in the silence that follows he whispers courage in the brushstrokes of wind across my anxious face. 

he has made promises to me, has been faithful through ten thousand storms, my constant ally in a thousand battles. 

quiet your worried voices, tie yourself to the mast and to truth, and whatever you do little sailor, don’t ever for one second lull your poor heart into thinking this voyage depends on your steadfast bravery. 

cannot you see the captain? it was he who called you away from the shoreline out onto the water with him. pull your eyes away from the ceaseless waves, focus instead on his voice. see how even the waves respond to his command? there is no fear in his eyes, of what then are you afraid?

he will see me safe through this fire, he will finish what he has begun.

7.30 swell

when we were younger, little brother, your eyes would light up when you sputtered stories from the books you devoured during quiet hour. and though it was dark i knew your eyes sparked the same as you built imaginary worlds long after our bedtime, because i could catch the wonder in your voice.

the years went on and took their toll, and we left our legos behind at mom and dads. though i couldn’t point out where or how, i feel that we left our wondering eyes back home as well. the way we stole away into the attic to pour over dad’s old board games, and wrote whole stories or planets into school notebooks. how mom laughed at the way you and i would race each other through books she kept feeding us, steadier than the gallons of milk we drank with reckless abandon. she was always trying to trick us out of those glasses of milk, wasn’t till we had our own place that we realized how much money it cost to feed us.

that apartment was almost the death of us, yet you can’t kill the wonder and i came to realize last week that you can’t kill the excitement of the little boy as he explains to his older brother the wonder of some distant universe.

it was out in that field in wyoming, when the stars lit up the grass around us and the band of the galaxy was painted in a brushstroke across the whole wide prairie sky. you should have hear your voice, tommy! the way your arms flailed across the sky pointing out every detail, your voice shaking from excitement trying to convey to me the sheer size and beauty of the universe. we were two bitter city rats out in a prairie field in the american midwest and i was almost crying at the awe of those stars.

you’ve still got that voice, though it’s been so long since the lego cities that i thought this dark world had choked the heart out of you. i hope you realize the stories you can paint with the excitement in your words. i hope you know that my imagination will always owe it’s influence to the boundless reaches of your mind. the innocence of the mind that always confused me when we were seven and eight. i get it better now, you’re a tour guide to this crazy adventure.

you’re the shaking voice of joy with arms sweeping across the milky way in the dark, pointing out the obvious. demanding we give attention to that which is due awe and wonder.

and all along i thought i was the hopeless romantic.

7.29 oswald gets it

weren’t you listening when i called you? my compelling command was childish in its simplicity.

follow me. 

your response should have been just as childish in its innocent response. 

follow me.

you’ve spent far too long trying to glance in front for some distant mountain, are you so blind and have traveled so little with me that you cannot taste and see? 

the journey is leading toward no sacred shrine, open your eyes! it is i who woke you up and i who walks with you now. i am the goal of your journey, i am the holy mountain at which you come to rest.

follow me.

my burden is light. and in my presence you will find rest for your soul. why have you spent so long worried sick with questions, when the answer needed nothing but the ears of a child.

follow me.

i know now, lord, why you utter no answer. you are yourself the answer. before your face questions die away.

7.28 momma i’m only being honest

well i started smoking again, jesus, but you aren’t mad as my friend’s parents who see a picture or hear a rumor, are you. aren’t you pleased with me lord, because i’m quitting again today. i’m doing it for you, jesus. well, you and the teenage kids who i hear are asking questions. aren’t you proud of me lord?

what do you mean i’m not listening? you said surrender these things getting in the way, and this is my little american martyrdom, doesn’t this bring a smile to your face? aren’t you pleased to watch me burn down these idols, even if i must repeat the ceremony once a month or day?

all of me? oh lord don’t be so jealous, let me come to you in my good sweet time, let me cast aside these burdens at the last possible moment, allow me to keep a few items for the journey. i don’t believe you want to meet a traveler with truly empty, open hands. you’re being dramatic, jesus.

let’s strike a deal, lord. heal me of this heart disease, yet let me skip full surgery, frankly it’s a bit extreme.

all of me? you’re not listening! i want to surrender specific strongholds, not my whole landscape. truly lord i want to follow you, first let me go and bury my sins. this will take time, maybe we can meet up a bit further down the road. trust me, you don’t want me right now, i’m dirty and flailing, let me come to you when I’m cleaner.

what’s that you say? rest? oh lord i haven’t known rest for many years, these burdens are heavy to my shoulders, and none can make them lighter, least of all time.

all of me? if you mean what you say, if you know what you’re getting yourself into, if you can kneel down into my mess and touch me, jesus, then you can have all of me.

here i am again, sweet lord. i will pull apart my own ribs just to let your healing hands into my heart. through all the lies and doubts and guilt there still glimmers the light of truth in your eyes. that i was dirty when you died for me, i was broken when you let them break your body instead of mine. a truth so sweet to my ears that it overwhelmed me, that you loved me at my lowest.

all of me, jesus. all of me, in trade for just one touch of your healing hand.

all of me.

7.24 untitled, obviously

might suffocate from over-thinking in the heavy silence, damp and stifling. plagued by an unshakable certainty that i will never utter another inspiring word, never type out a scrap of decent writing, never capture a beautiful moment with a camera, and fail to ever again reach out with unseen hands to rouse the soul of another human being.

at this point it’s best to get out of bed and face the day anyway, and i find in the walk from my bed to the bathroom sink that the choking despair will slowly surrender to firmer realities, the icy cold in gulps of tapwater and the faint whispers of courage from the rustling leaves at the window.

so i press on, remembering far too fondly what was, hoping that i might raise my voice once more in the murmuring mass and howl, howl louder than the wildest wolf. that once more i might rise up and press into the joyful center of the dance, swept up in the sweaty chaos, dazzled by the lights, lost in a rhythm far richer than myself.

7.22 there’s a story under this title

i have this picture in my head, this moment really, and it’s moving. where i’m getting stuck is with all the fluff, all the body fat around this exquisite skeleton. this image is a photograph I can’t get out of my head. one of the kids in sunday school is autistic and always has a difficult  time sitting through class, which isn’t the end of the world, except when he screams, kicks chalkboards, and pushes the teachers. thing is he’s got this beautifully tortured mind and he’s so passionate about whatever is stuck in his head on any given day. he’s the most difficult in my class, and also my favorite.

so this sunday he has a total meltdown, over his failure to correctly draw a snowflake, and he starts wailing and throwing markers. he ends up under the table, having successfully kicked away all the chairs and only narrowly missing his attempt to kick one of the teachers. we have to call his mom because he’s just losing it. and here we come to this scene in my mind, because what we’re all expecting at this point is for the mom to come in and be frustrated and just exhausted. we can’t handle him for an hour, she must be borderline mental having to monitor him twenty-four seven.

she comes through the door and sort of gets a glimpse of the scene. her son under the table, all the chairs kicked away, the closest person being me and i’m just trying to calm him down, all the other kids watching him from the craft table. and she walks over to us, kneels down to crawl under the table with him, and begins to rub his shoulder gently.

there was so much in that moment, in the contrast of her reaction to his actions, in the healing touch to his tortured mind. my mind sees it vividly but can’t capture it. i can’t do heaven justice.

7.15 the metaphorical resonance of it all

remember back when every moment was right out of our favorite films, coming to life out of all the cds we’d wear down in that shitty stereo you had propped up with your endless books. i swear i can still feel the lonely on my tongue from that winter we lived on ramen and the dark chocolate you brought me when things got low. you were right, though i couldn’t admit it then, i never inhaled when we’d blow through those packs out on the porch when it was you and me and not another human being who really knew us. we were too proud to let them in weren’t we, you wouldn’t even let me in all the way.

that’s what made it our own movie, tommy. it hurt like hell, and we hurt each other more than any of them ever could. you know what i’ve finally realized, two years apart from apartment thirty two, we were just blood when we packed the bags and bought two sets of silverware and found fat couches, but when we left you were my best friend. and i know neither of us would go back to that hole for anything, but every time i pass by on my way to mom and dad’s i thank God because that dirty flat was the battlefield of our love.

we’re older now and you know better than all of them that i’m still a piece of work, and the movie isn’t done yet, and some of it still hurts worse than anything. fact is the older i get the more i realize that some of this isn’t ever going to change. at times all you can do is find a friend to sit with, and take long drags on those little paper killing machines our mother hates so much, to watch the smoke fade away almost as fast as every hope and dream we’ve ever had. to watch it all fade, and to laugh with the only friend who truly knows you. and so this is what happens every time i get a minute to think, or an image i take makes me remember the movie we’ve been in these past years. i sit down to feverishly type it all out, and i get near to tears thanking God that i’ve got you.

they say you’re not a boy anymore, tommy. they say you’ll be a man in thirty one days. i know the truth, you’ve been a man longer than they’ll ever know. and they say we’re brothers, tommy. but i know the truth, we’re best friends, and i love you.

7.10 one word would be worth one thousand pictures

i wonder how long we’d sit here, darling, waiting for fears to melt away in that thick lazy sunshine. could we fall asleep on the lawn in the purity of this moment and never whisper another word about desires that came and went, or all the dreams that popped quicker than those party balloons.

soak in it, darling. bathe in the clean light of the truth, and forget all about the worry that held us captive. can’t you hear the branches murmur to our eager ears? he comes to make all things new. feel the grass between your toes, watch as even the shadows are made to dance. we are glimpsing in a mirror dimly, but there is form and rhythm in that mirror, and our hearts begin to tug at the memory. don’t be ashamed, we were made for this.

how long must you sit here, until you hear his voice? he is calling to us, and his voice is strong. are you listening, in the overwhelming warmth of every summer sunset, we might catch the song of our lover, the one for whom even the shadows frolic and sway in his symphony.

7.8 there’s a learning to be lessoned

i had been summoned to room 05, band-aid in hand, to patch up one of the little fellows who had managed to cut his finger while practicing martial arts. as i rounded the corner and came into the room, i saw five boys in a neat row, all about half my height, turning and swinging in time with their teacher’s short commands.

the wounded little warrior dutifully stepped forward as i scanned the row, silent but holding out his right hand towards me. i knelt down to inspect the battle scar, only a paper-cut, but still i ripped open the swab to clean his wound. he shivered at the sudden sting of it, wide eyes searching mine, fearfully asking why i would hurt him, yet not saying a word. he pulled his hand away, i reached out and took it again.

“i know it hurts, but i want to clean out your wound. only a few more seconds, promise.”

he grimaced once more and then it was over. i wrapped the band-aid, he shuffled back to his place in line, and i went on my way.

even in the simplest daily stories of paper-cuts and alcohol swabs we may learn a lesson or two. in our lives, growing can be like a swab on our fresh wound. at times it hurts, but there is cleansing even in pain, and it will not last forever. we will make it through in the end.