The Body Speaks

The Body Speaks
by Gina Butz

The knots in my shoulders
are where I store
all my secrets
all the unspoken emotions
the burdens I wouldn’t give
to someone else

They live there,
huddled together
weighing me down

If I could open them,
a flood of a thousand tears
would pour out
The unspoken grief of a lifetime
but those knots
do not easily give way

My body speaks to me
and I hush it
it whispers, “let’s be still”
while I race
the tightness tells me
it’s all too much
but I press on

I have fooled the world
with my strength
myself most of all
but my body keeps the score
and I’m tired of the fight

All this time I thought
It was my enemy
something to force into submission
and the right size pants
but now I see a friend
one who has held our sorrows
and fears so faithfully

All along she has tried
pleaded with me
to slow us down
asked us to just be
I think I’m finally ready
to listen

My body tells me
we need to rewrite the script
open the veins
loosen the tendons
let the tears flow
embrace our need
let ourselves be small
and there we will find rest

 

Gina Butz and her husband, Erik, have served in full-time ministry for 25 years, 13 of them in East Asia. They are currently raising their two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where Gina serves in leadership development at Cru headquarters. Her first book, Making Peace with Change: Navigating Life’s Messy Transitions with Honesty and Grace, released February 4th. She blogs at www.ginabutz.com  and loves to connect on Twitter and Facebook.

Lamplit Windows

 

Lamplit Windows
by Jennie Cesario

          I stood once on a particular leaf-papered sidewalk, in a particularly quaint little harbor town, on a damp mid-autumn evening chilly enough for a jacket and a sweater. Across the street stood an old clapboard cape, its multi-paned windows a pleasing symmetry astride its wide timber door, and in each window an electric candle burning gentle gold in the gloaming.

            I scarcely know how to describe how I felt at the sight of it (or why I felt it). Quickened? Transported? Bewitched? I only know that my soul went as warm wax within me – as warm wax cradling a flame – softened and supple and incandescent in the dusk.

***

            Just up the road from that old saltbox cape are some woods I sometimes wander in. There’s a little hole at the bottom of a particular tree in there, so perfectly arched and welcoming, it captured my imagination at once.

            “What an ideal home for a little family!” I exclaimed the first time I saw it, thinking of an illustration from a Beatrix Potter tale.

            But my son, reader of field guides, corrected me. Noting the hole’s location right at the fork of a frequented trail, he said: “Not likely, mom. Animals don’t like to be so obvious. And they’re not at all romantic – unlike certain humans.”

             I should have known this – even if my notions of animal habits do come more from fiction than not. Even in Kenneth Grahame’s whimsical (and utterly transcendent) classic, The Wind in the Willows, most animal homes are not so easily discovered, even by other animals. In the story, Badger’s great house is only uncovered by Mole and Rat accidentally, and then only after a great deal of feverish digging through a snow bank.

            But what a house it is! And what hospitality! Badger graces his storm-driven friends with dressing gowns and slippers, a toasty fire, and a fine repast. And at bedtime there are beds that look “soft and inviting,” with linen on them that “smelled beautifully of lavender.”

***

            I stood long on that leaf-papered sidewalk, just looking at that old clapboard cape, its mild window-lights illumining the darkening landscape, the earth deep-scented in wood-notes, and molder, and brine. The low mist was a cold dew on my cheeks, and the leaves floated down about me from boughs already half-undressed.

            And there was something almost numinous in that moment, a strange glory in the decline of things. A powerful mystery in the imagery of home and light quietly contending with autumnal darkness and decay.

***

            When summer slips into fall and fall into winter, the length of days shortening and shortening, we find ourselves under lamps more often, doing home-like things in their gentler casting light. Lamps in my home have fallen on the pages of The Wind in the Willows, where that book has been read aloud to two enchanted children, or read and re-read alone by a certain sentimental adult.

            Like the best of tales, The Wind in the Willows can sometimes have the same effect on me as that picturesque candlelit house at the harbor. The story seems to me to capture something of the wonder of our existence. Something of sunshine and storms and the cycles of seasons. Something of home and friendship, and of our foibles and inconsistencies softened by the tenderness and compassion of friends. Something of light waning to dark and dark waxing to light again – in nature, and in us.

            In one chapter, Mole and Rat pass through a small village on a snowy December evening, where “little was visible but squares of dusky orange red on either side of the street, where the firelight or the lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without… But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere blank transparency on the night, that the sense of home… most pulsated.”

***

            The sense of home. Is that what cast such an inexplicable spell on me as I stood before that candlelit cape near the harbor? The ideals and intimacies of home life hinted at in lamplight, but not fully exposed? Was I imagining, beyond the glow of all those little candles, warm robes and toasty fires, fine repasts, and lavender-scented sheets? A refuge from all of life’s storms?

            Or was it something more? A sense of safety and cocooned coziness, yes. But all of that heightened by the sensory contrast between light and dark, damp and dry, cold and warmth? That first motif – light and darkness – is one so prevalent in our great art and literature, and so central in the Scripture. There, we find recurring themes of home – of homecomings and homelands, and the call to hospitality, and the offer of secret shelter in the shadow of mighty wings, a tender refuge for all the children of God.

***

            Once, a long time ago. I climbed the cold, concrete steps of an inner-city walk-up, and entered the dank apartment of a woman languishing in illness, confined to her bed. I confess, my young self was repulsed by the sour smells of sickness, the staleness of poverty.

            With two others, I prayed for that woman to rise, rise out of her bed. And if out of that bed, I hoped, out of that home that seemed no home at all, out of that neighborhood so bleak and blighted and treeless, so far removed from even the evidence of seasons and starlight and all the sanctifying sweetness of nature.

            I don’t know if that woman ever did rise. And for years I tried not think about her, or her family, or her neighbors, or of any life narratives that ran so counter to my own romanticized and relatively privileged one. Lives that knew nothing of leisurely walks in the woods and cushion-y chairs by a fire. Children with little exposure to the joys of imagination-sparking books, little children with little experience of beauty.

***

            Several years ago, I saw a picture online of a dead toddler face-down in the sand on the shores of the Mediterranean. And, to my shame, I only then began to truly shed my blinders. I only then began to think of refugees, of war-torn souls languishing in tents and camps all over the earth, with no real place to place their heads. Of those whose homelands are lost to them, perhaps forever. And of those who cry out for a new homeland but receive no welcome.

            These days I think, too, of a two-year-old boy, separated from his mother, being raised by teenage girls in a cell at the Mexican border. And I ache, too, with remembrance of a young teenage boy who died alone in a similar cell, shaking from the flu on a cement floor, no pillow to cradle his aching head, no blanket to cover him. No mother at hand to caress him.

            How many in the world cry out for what I have so long taken for granted – four walls, clean-scented sheets, and savory meals simmering on a stove? Or what Mole describes as that “special value of such anchorage in one’s existence.” A place to come back to, which is all our own, and which is ever glad to see us, ever reliable in its welcome.

            How many children in the world have never known – and perhaps may never know – the rapt bliss of bedtime stories read aloud by lamplight? And how many of us with more home comforts than we could ever require feel threatened by those home-deprived children, write them off as too inconvenient to consider? As Marilynne Robinson writes: “The shrinking imaginative identification which allows such things as shared humanity to be forgotten always begins at home.” And yet, in God’s design, the ideals of both home and humanity always go together!

***

            In some idealized sketch of my life, I might own that old clapboard cape at the harbor, my restoration of it profiled in the pages of Country Living or BHG. Bolded phrases like “vintage details” and “cottage charm” might caption photos of my salvaged plank floors, antique mantelpieces, and the maple tree shedding ombre leaves in front of my primitive, but refurbished, front door.

            But my spirit didn’t light up that damp autumn evening for mere covetousness. Like all people, I’m familiar with that vice, and know only too well how it hardens and darkens the soul. Instead, all my longings that evening seemed to come from somewhere beyond me. Standing on that sidewalk, my soul truly did soften and grow incandescent in the dusk. A frisson formed in my core and radiated all through my limbs, warming me with love. And as I lingered there, just looking across at that old candlelit cape, I gave spontaneous thanks to the Father, in whose house are many rooms lovingly prepared for the least of these.

 

 

 

Jennie Cesario is a Christ-follower, a writer, and a teacher. Her words have appeared in the Perennial Gen, the Redbud Post, Fathom Magazine, and the Ginosko Literary Journal. Follow her writing journey at dappledthoughts.com where she muses on life and literature in the lamplight of faith, or on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

The Gardener

The Gardener
by Wemi Omotosho

I’d heard it said.
Rumours, whispers, conversations.
Masses declared it.
Proclamations of hope
that He made all things new.
I looked around the muck
saw the mess and dirt.
How can He make this new?

Wanting to live like His daughter
but failing to do better
hypocrisy nipped at my heels.
This ground is nothing special
its potential nothing crucial.
Yes, He’s the loving Lamb
but surely I’ve made His heart numb,
would He want to make this new?

But I’d heard it said.
Masses affirmed it
that He made all things new.
Having nothing worthy to offer
my ground with its patchy growth and thorns I proffered.
Then the Gardener began.
Uprooted dead works and sowed fruit trees
watered the dry soil and nurtured seedlings.

And I?
I watched in wonder
as new life bloomed in a once messy pit.
I reached the end of me and He took over
He took my dirt and made a garden out of it.

 

 

Wemi Omotosho, PhD wears many hats as a scientist, entrepreneur, and writer. Currently, she lives with her husband and two children in London, UK. Wemi is active in her local church as a vocalist in the worship team, a bible study writer, and a coordinator for the public relations department. In her downtime, she can usually be found with her nose in a book or writing poetry. She is in constant awe of God’s love for her despite her mess. She shares her reflections and poems at www.reflectionsinthemess.com. Instagram: @reflectionsinthemess
Twitter: @WemiOmotosho

Awakened

 

Awakened
by Sarah Rennicke

We are all meant to be.

Someone.

Something.

A flash of light through thick, syrupy darkness.

 

We have been fastened together by dreams and shapes and symphonies, formed in the secret spaces of the deep. Intentionally. With fervor.

We are silhouettes made of stardust, given faces and smiles sewn on our porcelain skin. In the moon-speckled night, our deepest longings were whispered delicately into our ear. While we slept, we soared.

And then, slowly, with sensation sweeping from our eyelids, we awoke. To colors drying and chipping from the sky. With our faces, our lineage, our stories, muffled against the exhaust of nameless fumes, toxic and telling us to move along. They invaded our invincibility, our homes that hooked us to our cotton clouds and pulled the string. We slipped and stumbled to the ground, no longer aware of the way we floated. Instead, the sharp realization of reality jabbed us in the jaw, and then we knew how much the fall would hurt once our brittle bones hit the earth.  Huddled around us, voices hissed, full of doubt and fear and cruelty. The voices grappled for the shine in our eyes, tender from the blistering light that led us for so long. They took the glow and hid them in shadows, where we could only hear the faintest whimpers as they wailed at our separation.

We were tried and tested, bruised but never fully bleeding. This new world sneered at the likes of us, the dreamers who had dared to believe we were made for more. So they kept us cowering, crossed up in lies that we don’t deserve delight. That we cannot claim a life of our own.

Yet.

A seed, small, insignificant to the outside eye, has been planted.

Many years ago.

Many miles from this world.

And it has grown, quietly, in the concrete corners of our heart.

 

There is something inside of us that cannot stay hidden, cannot stay sleeping. It is dangerous, it is explosive, it is the greatest instrument we can possess. And with it comes the living rush of wind that sets our sails to travel the sky. To once and for all search the sands and find the perfect space to insert our own shell, unique and exquisite in a sunrise’s surprise.

This is the time.

We are formed from the hands of mercy, of beauty, of light and love. These hands that formed the heavens, formed us. And within our private precincts, they placed a voice, a vision, a task entirely our own and utterly under our command.

We are to set fire to the fabric of our beings. We are to answer this call abundantly and unabashedly. And we are to savor each second the sunlight sweeps over our face.

Because in our breath, we taste our Creator. In our skills, we see our Mentor. And in our depth and width and luster of this fading world’s wonder, we see Him who lifted us from the cradle of conformity and set us high upon the hill of hope, His light bathing us in such a glory all who look upon us burst forth in choruses of admiration.

How they shine, their reactions echo. How they radiate with the touch of His approval.

 

All other voices are silenced.

 

 

Sarah Rennicke enjoys listening to the heartbeats of the world and conveying them through words. She is the editor of Awake Our Hearts, writes for numerous nonprofit international organizations and publications, and has a strong affinity for dark roast coffee. Sarah is a member of Redbud Writers Guild, a vibrant and diverse movement of Christian women who create in community and who influence culture and faith. In the in-between moments, she likes to write narrative and lyrical essays exploring the longings of life and soul at www.sarahrennicke.com and on Instagram.

Awakening

 

Awakening
by Susanna Makinson

We are a precarious people,
never quite fitting our skin
until the time has passed
to be lithe and fluid within in.

But loss, I believe,
forces us to bloom or wither.

And the pain suddenly,
like thorns at our brow,
awakens us, though we never knew
we were sleeping.

 

 

 

Susanna Makinson grew up on a small fisherman’s island in Southern Florida. Her writing often contains elements of water, sea, and sky. She has experienced both the tragedy of loss and the beauty of redemption. She currently lives in the mountains of North Carolina with her husband and their six children. She enjoys learning about ethical farming practices, homeschooling her children, sewing, writing, and knitting. She is fueled most often by coffee and the sustaining love of Jesus. Instagram: @little_bluebarn

The Faith That Formed Me

 

The Faith That Formed Me
by Ingrid Lochamire

On an early spring evening, I stood in line for the symbolic smudge of ashes marking the first day of Lent. I was unprepared for what that touch to my forehead would do to my heart as in the glow of candlelight, I stepped back in time as tears spilled unbidden.

And there she was again, standing at the altar. Skinny, smiling shyly as she posed in her white communion dress, mousy brown hair peaking from beneath a froth of netting, white anklets scrunched above black patent leather shoes. Ardent in her practice of a faith that would form her, the little girl’s eyes glowed with the joy of taking her first communion, of offering her first confession, and of receiving the ashes.

Did she know that five decades later, she’d stand at another altar and her heart would burst wide open, full with the joy of embracing again the precious impact of the ashes?

* * *

I turned away from Catholicism as a high school senior, lured by the popular youth group and upbeat worship music offered by my friends’ non-denominational church. I wanted guitars and games, not incense, chiming bells and Latin liturgy. A copy of The Living Bible went with me to college. My Catholic scriptures were left behind on a bedroom shelf.

An outdoor wedding ceremony officiated by the pastor of that little church set me on a path toward spiritual awakening and growth. Women in the church mentored and encouraged my still-ardent love for Jesus, and I learned to share Him with others. In years to come, pastors from various denominations and other churches would contribute to a deepening faith that sustained me through my life’s trials — divorce, loss, cancer.

The security of a faith built on decades spent living out God’s Word among His people allowed me to pay attention when a gentle ripple of longing began to surface. In the beginning, I couldn’t put a word to the yearnings that bubbled in a quiet corner of my soul. As a mature Christian, I love my church. I’m in deep agreement with the doctrine and theology of our evangelical protestant beliefs and practices. But, like a lamp lit by a low-wattage bulb, my rock-solid faith lacked some of the glow that burned across the years from the altar of that little Catholic chapel of my childhood.

It wasn’t until I spent time working alongside other women in a restoration project at a Catholic retreat center that the yearnings slipped into place.

Beauty, symbolism, tradition, corporate prayer, holy seasons. I had shed them like an ill-fitting coat in my youth. Now, I welcomed the comfort of their weight and warmth.

As we talked and planned, I soaked up the joy of those women doing a work for Jesus. I recognized and understood what shined from their eyes when they spoke to me of tradition. Of miracles, healings, sacraments. Of a church history that, in many ways, is the heritage of my own Christian faith.

It was familiar because it was part of me.

My stepmom passed away shortly after these women completed their project. It was inevitable that my grieving was bound up in their unwavering commitment to The Church. I had seen the same devotion in my stepmother. Her collection of Catholic icons, prayer books, rosaries, holy medals and other symbols of faith passed through my hands as we sorted through her possessions. They gave testimony once again to what I had known and lived — to the faith that had formed me.

You can turn from one good thing and replace it with another, but can you wipe away the imprint that one thing left on your soul? Or can you acknowledge the stirrings when they surface and make space for them in the now?

When our evangelical Christian church chose to observe Ash Wednesday for the first time in many years, I found myself dipping back into the dust of a tradition that lay at the foundation of my faith. The simple, sacred act brought me face-to-face with the ardent little Catholic girl who called herself the Bride of Jesus.

Her eyes still glowed.

“Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” Genesis 3:19b

 

 

 

Ingrid Lochamire is an author, speaker and former journalist. She’s also a “retired” home educator who graduated four sons before returning to her roots as a writer. She blogs regularly and recently began co-hosting the podcast On the Front Porch. Her reflections on rural life, faith and family have been published online in the literary journal Topology, at the website Perennial Gen and on The Redbud Post. Ingrid and her husband live on a farm in a beautiful glacial valley in northeast Indiana. Ingrid is on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as Ingrid Lochamire.

Products of Personal Care

 

Products of Personal Care
by Melanie Weldon-Soiset

As I push some soap bars to the side of my DC linen closet, I discover a bright pink sunscreen bottle, SPF 65. “Non-greasy dry feel!,” it proudly boasts. Designed in California USA, assembled in the Philippines. I study the bottle while the memories wash over me.

My husband Brian and I moved 10 times during our first decade of marriage, and we culled our toiletry collection for each displacement. Many of our flats came furnished, which means our home décor choices were limited. The rock hard mattresses and wobbly tables did little to cultivate a sense of coziness; hence the splurges on rose and lavender body lotions. I wanted to reclaim a bit of dignity before storing those cherished creams in metallic, neon orange cabinets.

Moving to China forced me to become even more aware of the need to monitor what I put in and on my body. Local shampoo not meant for dirty blonde hair left my mop matted, and domestic body soap burned my skin. News articles forewarning fraudulent medicine in my adopted country kept me from neighborhood pharmacies. I therefore learned to import and stockpile toiletries.

The bottles and boxes in our last Shanghai apartment stood under our bathroom sink like little soldiers, called to attention in neat rows three feet deep and six feet wide. Like a paranoid recluse preparing for the apocalypse, I hoarded toothpaste, mouthwash, and tampons. I accumulated drugs for any ailment, storing anti-diarrheal pills from three different countries, and cold medicine from at least two.

Travels abroad became opportunities to replenish our bath and body collection. In each new country, we actively sought out the multinational drug store chains Boots, Watsons, and Mannings. This trip in the Philippines, however, proved especially trying. Stops in our usual oases left me empty-handed in my search for high SPF sunblock. I was now scouring a local grocery store.

There I stood in that Manila supermarket, at my wit’s end. The next morning, Brian and I would fly to stunning yet inadequately provisioned Boracay, a Filipino beach resort. I desperately yearned for some rest and sunshine, since I lacked both in smoggy China. I was severely overweight, burned out from my job, and injured from a torn Achilles tendon. Tears built in my eyes as I aimlessly wandered the aisles, seeking the epidermal protection I’d need to be outside. My anxious attempts at Sabbath were dissolving in failure.

But then, a flash of pink. A special section of sunscreen beckoned me. I approached the delightful neon display, and discovered a small bottle of self-care treasure.

Back in DC, I lovingly place that pink sunscreen in its proper place in my new-to-me linen closet.  We had moved back to the US from China, and I’m now performing the familiar ritual of organizing the toiletries.  This time, however, I intend to stay put.

“The medicine is ready!” Matthew calls. I close the closet door, and head downstairs. I see Brian and our Chinese tenant, Matthew, sitting at the kitchen table. Three bowls of soup greet me.

Brian and I are congested with colds, and Matthew has offered to make some Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine is eaten, not taken, which means a delicious soup also serves as succor. I smell the fragrant ginger, sit down, and look inside my bowl to see small red goji berries floating in an inviting brown sugar broth. What I could not accomplish in China I am now doing in the US:  healing myself the Chinese way, with the help of a Chinese friend. I gratefully take a sip.

 

 

 

Melanie Weldon-Soiset loves to get real in comfy house slippers. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Melanie has written for Velvet Ashes, Sojourners, Geez, Redbud Post, Red Letter Christians, and Bearings Online. Melanie also lived in China for five years, where she served as a pastor at a Shanghai church for 2,000 immigrants from over 100 countries. Melanie hails from Georgia but now lives in DC, where she bikes on local greenways, gardens, and abides among the basilica bells and sacred space of her Brookland neighborhood. Find Melanie online at melanieweldonsoiset.com, or on Twitter @MelanieWelSoi.

Resurrection

 

Resurrection
by Michele Morin

“As for man, his days are as grass;
as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and the place thereof remembers it no more.”

Psalm 103:15, 16

 

Every day there are fewer shingles — and more bare roof.
Every day there is less barn and more sky
until,
it becomes clear to us that walls are also passing away,
a melancholy nod to the flowers of the field
who spend their winters in barn-storage,
The wind having already passed over their flourishing.
There is merit,
apparently,
(wisdom at least)
in the contemplation of
a barn-less field,
a me-less world:
“Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
But Old Testament poets notwithstanding,
there will be a Second Wind,
Who will tease mortal hay back into clover, timothy, succulent greens;
stir the dry bones;
reconstitute my known frame, while that Living Wind whispers,
“Resurrection.”

 

 

 

Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Michele is active in educational ministries with her local church and delights in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. Connect by following her blog at Living Our Days, or via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Gilt Gift

 

Gilt Gift
by Jody Collins

Sometimes I guilt myself right out of
joy. Like the surprise of an iridescent
butterfly from an unsightly cocoon,
who would expect this shimmering
show in morning sunlight?
My eyes trained on Northwest firs
framed in blue, frosted feeders,
feathered presents hidden among
the trees.
Moments pass.

I’ve held my breath, wondering.
Did my mother ever ponder stilling
herself, take a moment with the
birds in her California garden? Gaze
restful at morning fog carried in
on marine air? Was she ever at
ease in her troubled
life, parenting us five alone?
I will never know.
I cannot ring her up to ask, there is
no email to send, no letter to write.
She is gone, stolen far too soon.
I abandon this feigned injustice.
How wildly unfair that I should gather
such beauty as surely she never did.

No.
I will not leave reason to balance the
ledger, steal this away, too. The
feathered hum of heat, filigreed pane,
frosty view. I drink in sleeping green,
the fluttering avian dance, breathe
in the brilliant morning.
Surrender my second guesses and leave
logic to philosophers, welcoming with
wonder this gilt gift, nothing to ponder
but my thanks.

 

 

 

Jody Collins is a blatant philologist and poetry lover living in the Pacific Northwest with her very patient husband. She uses both gardening and writing as therapy, often featuring her 6 grandchildren, whom she thanks God for daily. Jody’s been penning words since Smith-Corona typewriters graced the desks of her middle school, but nowadays you can find her thoughts at www.jodyleecollins.com.  Twitter: @JodyLeeCollins2  Instagram: @jody_lee_collins