Of Death and Beauty

Right now there is on my dining room table an arrangement of cut flowers in a clear glass vase. The vivid colors are an enthusiastic mix of purple and magenta, green, yellow, and salmon. I smile to see it, partly because it arrived with a card reading

which made me feel very loved, and partly because the vibrant hues invariably make me think of certain of my friends who are like that: colorful, vivacious, eye-catching, intense, full of life. People like that always frighten me a little, but once they are my friends I love them for all the ways they are not like me. Created for life as we are, it is not hard to find beauty in the vibrancy of it.

Strewn across my coffee table are eleven white roses. They were part of a bouquet given to me by a florist friend: a lovely blue and white arrangement, remnant of a summer wedding. They are fading, glossy leaves stiffening into dullness, velvet petals hardening in brittle death. And they are beautiful. There is no struggle here, no rage against the dying of the light. Only graceful surrender to time as they become a fragile memory – yesterday’s flowers. I love them better every day they die, and I marvel at the desolate loveliness that death and ending can hold.

On my living room wall hangs another flower arrangement. Its colors have long faded into muted tones: parchment yellows, dusty mauves, blackened wines, greens pale and cold. Nearly nine months past, it was my bridesmaid’s bouquet at the wedding that turned my friend into my sister-in-law. It was beautiful then, but now that it is dead and faded and fragile, I think I love it more. Beauty in life is easy to see and appreciate, but beauty in death – that is a rare gift.

Several weeks past I had a conversation with a friend on death – specifically, if death ever comes from God, or if it is solely a weapon of the Enemy which he is allowed to wield at God’s discretion. We did not entirely agree – but then, I don’t entirely agree with most people’s view on death. There is one man I do agree with, I think:

Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind. – C.S. Lewis

This life is not big enough and this world is too lonely for me to feel that death is the greatest tragedy we must face here. But then again, I suspect I may not really be qualified to have a fixed opinion on death. I have, after all, never died.

My mind is a forest…

My mind is a forest.

Sometimes I am lost in it.

.

In some places,

Sun shines through trees

Gold through green

Leaves dance down little fairy paths

And there are wild-berry picnics on green grass blankets.

This is where others come to visit

Where it’s safe

My mushrooms may be strange colors

But everyone has mushrooms.

.

There is a river

Where sunlight drips through and scatters

In some places, the currents run deep and silent

Further on, there is a roar and a froth.

Rocks break the water in surprising places

Here is beauty, but also danger

Sometimes the rocks are sharp

Sometimes they cut your hands

Only friends come here

Only those who know me

say I’m worth it

And in some places the rocks are worn smooth

from kindness and gentle touches.

.

There are dusky places

Always caught in cat’s light

Where naked branches are silhouetted against the first stars

And fireflies party around dark tree pillars.

There are odd rustles in the bushes

and sometimes the gleaming lights are eyes

not fireflies

A sickle moon spills strange thoughts

Cold breezes whisper words across my skin

This is where stories are born

Here I walk alone

Here, I rest.

This is where I find myself

Where I enter into my birthright.

.

But far in,

the trees grow tangled

twisted

dark.

Sometimes when I am too long alone

I wander past the dusky places into something murkier

Where thick spiderwebs pull branches close

Mud slips beneath my bare feet

And the eyes in the shadows are always behind me.

I cannot be found

because I forget that I am lost.

All is night under the misshapen branches

It climbs into my eyes

I cannot remember that light lives anywhere.

I light a candle, and it smothers.

I remember only cold in the dusky places-

only eyes watching, and loneliness.

I remember only night on the river-

only cold rocks and wet blood on my hands.

I remember only a glare of the sunshine places-

only that I grow tired when I am long there

and that sometimes there are insects screaming in my ears.

All paths are uphill

crowded with brambles

So why bother?

.

But while I am huddled on the slimy ground

I open my eyes.

Far, far above

The moon rides.

And it is light,

Always above.

The moon knows my forest.

I stand

but I cannot reach it.

I am still alone

And I know that I am lost.

.

There is only one who comes looking for me here

(Or perhaps he was sent)

Because he is the only one who dares to push through my twisting paths

Calling my name louder than the voices in my head

Clasping my hand stronger than the clinging spiderwebs

He pulls me from all the lost places in my mind

and draws me back into the light.

.

My mind is a forest.

Sometimes, I am lost in it.

Inside the Fence

end

“Can I tell you my story now?” he asked.

It is not really very likely that I will ever say no to this question.

It was an ordinary day at the office. He’d been fighting discouragement for a while. It’s hard, when you have total faith that this is what God is calling you to do and still the doors feel like they’re not only closed before you, but also locked. But he’d been praying and today God replied:

“Go to Cleburne airport tonight and stay until sunset.”

BUT WHY THOUGH. It wasn’t like he could fly tonight. There wouldn’t even be any airplanes for him to watch and wish he would be piloting them. What would be the point?

“Just go.”

Okay then. Whatever You say.

He called his wife to warn her that God had booked his evening, and invited her to go along. His enthusiasm levels about visiting a lifeless airport were not high, but at least they could have a date night. He didn’t think God would say three is a crowd tonight.

The airport disappointed his expectations. Not only were there two airplanes which took off and landed several times before flying away, there was a third which seemed inclined to stay the whole evening; taking off, flying the pattern he knew so well, landing, and then starting all over again.

They parked their car and sat on the hood to watch. But if you do not have the call to flight whispering in your veins, pulling your gaze ever skyward, you can only watch an airplane do the same thing again and again for so long. His wife’s eyes wandered, and she saw wildflowers growing in the field by the runway. Could they go and pick some?

“Just wait,” he said, “It’s not quite sunset yet.” And he hadn’t had any shining revelations. Yet.

He continued not having them while the sun dropped, and when it slipped behind the horizon, he gave up. Maybe he wasn’t meant to have any tonight. They had had a good evening. Maybe that was meant to be enough.

He took his wife out into the field, and while she was gathering her wildflowers, he looked up again to the place where, according to the pattern it had been flying, the airplane should have been. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t anywhere in the sky or on the earth either, as far as he could see.

“If I brought it here for you to watch, why would I keep it here after you stop looking?” God pointed out.

Oh, right. This evening had been God’s idea, not his.

“Thank You for the airplanes tonight.” And he turned back towards his wife.

God cleared His throat. “Ahem. Also. Where are you standing right now?”

In a field in the middle of a tiny airport?

“Remember how you used to stand outside the airport fences, watching, longing just to be on the other side? These closed doors you keep staring at? Yeah, there might be a few still before you. But what about the gates we’ve opened? Look around you, Craig. You are inside the fence.”

begin

Homeland

Some people have a homeland; a place that their heart calls most beautiful on earth, a place they always want to go back to. Some people have lived in one township for generations. For some people, the land they live on is part of them, in their blood. The circumference of their world may be small, but their roots run deep.

I have never been one of those people. I was born in Missouri, but I couldn’t take you to the first house I lived in. I have no memories of it. I was less than two years old when my family relocated to Colorado.

If I had a homeland, it would probably be Colorado. It’s a dry land, verging on desert, and the browns and blues of it are restful to my eyes as no other landscape is. We lived on mesas, and the nights sparkled with earth-stars in the valley and sky-stars in the heavens. This where I grew up. This is where I have my first misty memory: a swingset and sandbox and a small neighbor named Mary Esther, in front of a house which I don’t remember.

After that, there were four more houses which I do remember. The first, glamoured and distorted in my memories by the eyes of childhood, had windows stretching wide and an open loft where small Jenny got her head stuck between the log railing posts. The second was an old house with creaky floors and a honey-filled bee nest in the eaves, and after living in it for eight years, we were summarily removed from the dangers of faulty wiring, and, several weeks later, watched it pushed flat. The third, a modern house with clear glass showers and all hardwood or tile floors, was the home where I learned to know myself, where I became friends with my older sisters and saw them move away, where my doors were opened to freedom. The fourth house was built on the edge of the ‘dobe wilderness, had thick white walls and high, echoing ceilings, and belonged to one of my married sisters before it belonged to us. This was my last home in Colorado and my last home as my father’s daughter, for this was the house I left when I got married.

Arkansas was a new story for me, in more ways than one. From the beginning, everything was different. When you grow up somewhere, you grow into a niche without much effort. There was no niche for me in Arkansas. I was lost at first and clung to my books, the only unchanged thing I had left. But then I was given work to do and people to love, and that is really what I need from my niche. My first job was a half year of teaching two little boys with hair of sunshine and midnight, and I fell in love. My second was a secretary job where I found the work my brain enjoys and felt valued for it, and I fell in love again. And then I made friends of every sort: the passionate and candid sort, the sweet and open-hearted sort, the analytical and inciting sort. And though my inside life was still unlike what it had been, I found my new familiar and loved it.

Outwardly, the colors of my world had changed just as drastically. Arkansas is usually green, with so much vegetation that in some places the vine-plants devour the beautiful old trees. It is a damp land, often humid, and even my hair was different in that air. But Arkansas has a beauty that arid Colorado never gave me. In Arkansas, there are gray days, when clear pearl-drops fall for hours and evening brings a white mist, wrapping soft around the dark trees. In the morning, the sunrise burns scarlet through the fog and melts it into nothingness.

Close to the end of my time there, Arkansas became the place where I became my Father’s daughter. And it was home. I knew the people. I had a comfort zone, and I had the confidence to fly out of it, knowing I would be caught when I fell. When the day came that we decided it was time for us to leave, I was surprised by how entangled my heart had become in that place and those people. It hurt more than I’d expected to pull away.

Now, here is Texas. State number four. Big, crazy Texas. It’s only been a little over two weeks. We’re still mere acquaintances. At first, Texas was only southern winter: cold, cloudy, lots of tangled and brittle yellow grass, and just enough rain to keep the puddles in the lane from drying out. And the first week I felt even more displaced than I did in the beginning of my Arkansas days. But I see hope. Yesterday there was sunshine and wind, like a Colorado springtime. And there is potential for niche building: work for my hands, people for my heart. I had some friends here even before I arrived, and I think there might be more budding. I like the way the sun sets here, and I like the way the people make me want to become more.

Texas is flatter and warmer than my Colorado home. It is more dry and has less forest than my Arkansas home. But I think the sky is bigger here.

An Armful of Stories

There are stories written in the skin of my arms. The language is silent and perhaps only I can interpret it, but when I trace the lines I read a history of the most formative relationships in my first fifteen years: my daddy, my mother, my older sisters, and my self.

1)  A small brown dot about the size of a pinhead has been on my wrist for as long as I can remember. Before I was old enough to go to school, one of my sisters used it to teach me right from left. Some people made an L with their thumb and finger; but in looking for the mole on my right wrist, I never learned to see it as a flaw. It was a help, a reminder; and now it is a memory of my older sisters, without whom I would be ill-equipped to face the world. 

2)  On the inside of my right elbow there is a narrow, faintly silver crescent. I remember the day I got this scar, though I was quite a small girl – small enough to sit on the kitchen countertop while I helped my mother fry mushrooms. I slipped, on that evening, and fell hand-first into the pan of boiling oil. On the palm of my hand there blossomed a blister larger than my thumb, but my mother doctored it so well that there’s no sign of it today. The only scar I was left with is the curve where my arm hit the edge of the skillet. I seldom notice it now, but I was all of twenty years old before I could enjoy the taste of mushrooms. 

3)  Over the tops of my arms a hundred freckles are scattered – mementos of seven summers spent in the sun, running a mower for my daddy’s lawn care business. I was never a fan of outdoor work but I enjoyed working with my daddy, and despite the two years since spent in housewife-ing and teaching and office work, the freckles remain, a memory of the days when I worked to earn the position of my daddy’s right-hand girl. 

4)  On the soft insides of my forearms the fourth story is written in whisper-thin lines of fading white. Soon they will vanish, and I could choose to let their story vanish with them. I’ve never told it to anyone, this story of a lost teenage girl for whom alone was definitive, both as a blessing and a curse. Alone was the place where I became acquainted with myself, but alone was also the cage where no one could reach me. There were too many thoughts, too many emotions, too tightly locked inside of me, and somehow when my arms stung red in the dark, it soothed for a moment the deeper ache in my soul. Sometimes, still, when I am very tired and my thoughts press in too heavily, I miss the pain that felt like a balm. Last night was like that. But lost has become He saved me, and alone is now where I feel safest in Him. The skin on my wrists is transparent and the blood branching blue underneath is bought blood. Once created and once purchased is twice owned, and I have no right to turn it red.

There are stories written in the skin of my arms: stories of my sisters who taught me so much; stories of my mother, who was patient when I wanted to help and tenderly faithful when I was hurt; stories of weeks spent in the comfortable near silences of practiced understanding with my daddy; stories of fighting my battles alone, of losing and being lost, until the day I was found and I learned to surrender – not to the battles, but to the One who conquers all.

Storm Moments

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These are moments

I wouldn’t trade for a world

Moments of coming home

A step ahead of the storm

Moments of running out to greet it

Moments of dancing

On mud

On grass

On raindrops

On wind

And he comes running too

And spins me through the wild dark of storm

And kisses me under the cold fall of sky

Not because he loves it like me

But because he loves me.

A Rained World

Image

Today I wander out

into the rained world

Looking for what?

I don’t know

But I am looking.

The colors are different

in a rained world

All shades of green

Orange deepening into brown

Gray and black and white and gray.

There is so much water

Little rivers

Small lakes

Tiny waterfalls

I come from a dryer land than this.

My spring daffodils hide their faces

Raindrops fell fiercely here

I lift one

Mud on its petals

Grime on satin

Still beautiful.

I walk a rain-sticky road

and stop to look at the other worlds

reflected in water pools

If I jumped

would I fall through?

A strange-shaped stump

Like the throne of some woodland elf-king

calls me from my safe lane.

Grass is tall under the trees

Thick with last year’s leaves

My hem turns cold against my ankles.

Back in the warmth of my house

My eyes are dark

My fingers, stiff

But I think I have found

what I was looking for.

A creation always reflects its creator

In rainwater I see His reflection

more clearly.