Jun 24, 2014

Finding Happy

Image from Keystrokes & Kaleidoscopes
I looked up from my paper plate full of beans-and-wieners and fall-off-the-bone sweet barbeque ribs. I caught my brother, David, looking past me to the other side of the garage, his face relaxed except for the eyebrows slightly pinched together. His eyes were intensely focused, telescoped in on something, all senses following to a point across the room.

My head turned, as if drawn by the energy from him, toward my mom sitting at the table behind me. Her eyes were watery, and her head was down, using the plate in front of her as an excuse to not make eye contact. Her face was in stark contrast to the sparkling eyes, smiles, hugs, and laughter going on around us.

We were there in the garage (the traditional place of gathering and celebration of graduations in Minnesota) celebrating Josh, her grandson, and his moving on from high school. We were celebrating his future and hope and accomplishment and triumph and persistence and life.

The word graduation itself is more than a celebration of an accomplishment, an end to a story. It means moving from one level to another. Gradually moving to the next gradation, or level, in a series. It is a celebration of continuation, of the end of one chapter that excitedly sets the stage with eager anticipation for the beginning of the next chapter.

We often refer to a graduation ceremony as commencement, which literally means a beginning. Josh was at the precipice of a new adventure and we were all there, trying to find some way to encourage him to embrace the strength, joy, endurance, and wisdom that he had gained through the trials of his most recent sojourn. Trying to express our hope for him to take what he had learned into the future and not let the tribulations of the past be for naught.

I asked myself, knowing full well the answer, why this particular graduation seemed to be so much happier than that of the preceding thirteen nieces and nephews. The answer is in the idea that colors pop out when set against their opposites. Yellow may feel soft, warm, and relaxing when sitting among orange and spring greens. But it becomes alive, vibrant, even jumps at you, when set atop plum purple. A moment in time can feel bigger, more alive, more present, depending on the canvas it is painted on. The paradox was that our happiness had been painted on a canvas of pain, which made it burst into our hearts unlike any other.

My mom had just seen the photos, at the guest sign-in and gift drop-off table. Photos of Josh with his dad, her son. One snapshot was a preschool Josh sleeping droopy mouthed on his dad’s chest. Another was his Dad holding him up on his first “dirt-squirt” motocross bike, grinning wider than his helmet. Several other photos panned across his life with Dad before high school.

The first week of high school, four years ago, Josh had missed. His dad had been suddenly taken from him, from us, from the world, that weekend and there were the associated activities and grieving that kept him from attending school.

The pride in all that Josh had accomplished through these past four years was about more than him being a great kid. It was about persistence in overcoming adversity. It was about holding onto a dream, albeit broken, to drag it into reality. It was about a young man finding himself through losing his father.

A friend challenged me to write about a joyous event or time in my life. Something not related to work, just for fun. Taking her challenge – assignment actually, I tried to think of something that qualified. Indeed I came up with many happy times, but none seemed to resonate real heart felt joy as much as the times that were coupled with an underlying sense of the tragic. Perhaps, instead of wishing for life to be easier, I will attempt to embrace the spirit of overcoming in myself, and acknowledge that the joy that is born through adversity is so much sweeter than a simple complacent smile.

Feb 23, 2014

Insidious Redeemed

Image credit: Ransom Riggs
by Kelly Wegscheid

The hand that touched upon my chest
That penetrated as it firmly pressed
That sent its heat fiercely through my unsuspecting breast

It wrapped my heart in fingers bold
It sent heat waves through my veins once cold
And seeped into my blood like stories never told

Then sprung a root (or was it thorn?)
With tentacles like seedlings born
Which wrapped 'round and 'round and up and down each and every cell forlorn

Its energy came coursing true
Wrapping 'round and 'round and through and through
It didn't know, but tried to wash away all thoughts of You

Its vines… No, roots... No, thorns…
Wound tight and pulled and tangled
Until, thick, they brought on darkness raging
With a passion raw, seeking light, it scratched and clawed

Another piercing of my wounded heart
Willful ripping of my Creator’s art
Undone by its own unleashed lust

Then bursting out, it found next sought
And flew away, left me for naught
Its hand upon my chest I had not fought

In darkest core still hid my heartbeat
Smoldering with hope I could no longer feed
Its blood and breath and life sucked out like a gasp of heat

Survival dictates preserve thyself
So with grace and peace and clarity
One fell swoop loped off that hand and shriveled what remained

All foreign, ugly, dead debris
Instantly became ashes
Which turned to mulch to feed my hope
Just how the Good Book says it happens

Dec 13, 2013

The Essence of Life

[Oil painting by Leah Saulnie]
So...I was thinking...we're a pretty conceited bunch, us humans. We're always believing that what we believe is truth and everyone else just doesn't get it. Especially when it comes to ourselves. We think that if we're smart enough, or wise enough, or experienced enough, we can figure out what we're all about. Each one of us has a belief about where "it" all came from. The world. Creation. Us. If someone was asked where it all came from, they'd either have some semblance of an answer, or they'd stop and think about it and try to come up with an answer (you just did, didn't you?). As if we could actually tap into an answer for such a question.

Admit it. It would be an extremely rare person that would answer that they know absolutely nothing about how life began because a created thing cannot comprehend its own creation or creator.
(however, some of you might be self-aware enough to have acknowledged your own ignorance while reading that last sentence - but if you acknowledged your ignorance after it was pointed out that you might be self-aware enough to do so, you probably haven't accepted your ignorance, but just have a desire to be self-aware, and you are now, instead, starting to think that I have no idea what I'm talking about and I'm being conceited by acting as if I know you, which, obviously, I am. But then, so are you, and I've just given you another example of how we're all pretty conceited)

Anyway, I was thinking how conceited we are because I had this conversation with a friend the other day about God creating the world, and Adam and Eve, and how long did that really take, and was it really seven real days, or was it over millions of years, or did God make millions of years of stuff happen in just seven days? The day after our conversation, I realized it makes no difference at all how long it took.

Life was created.

That sort of puts a grinding halt to any thought processes about how or when or why or who. How can we possibly comprehend the least little thing about creation when we are intrinsically incapable of grasping the concept of life coming into existence from nothing. How can we, the created, understand anything about our own creation?

Yet, we spend an incredible amount of human energy believing, discussing, studying, and explaining the who, what, when, where, why and how of our existence, as if we know what the essence of life even is. None of us has a clue. It's the elephant in the room and we're all talking about its trunk and wrinkly skin and little fuzzy hairs and droopy eyes and floppy ears and whether its breath is sweet or salty, but no one admits there is an elephant there. We all know that we can't possibly comprehend the creation of our own life, but we all live as if the base-line for human intelligence is the assumption that, if we just try hard enough, we can figure out what life is all about.

Admit it. The only way we can know anything about creation is by divine revelation.

I ache for it. Divine revelation.

Nov 26, 2013

Am I a Man?

The following is a guest post by my daughter. It is a two-voice poem and is in response to the novel "All is Quiet on the Western Front." The voice alternates between the main character, Paul, at the start of the war and at the end of the war.

Am I a Man? 

by Dana Q

Photo: Album cover "The Young Veteran" Ted Bee
I am a man
I was a man
Who has a loving family
Whose family no longer knows him
I am a young man
I am a man aged by loss
Who loves to escape into fiction
Who can't escape from his reality
I am strong and capable
I am weak and wounded
I am a man who will fight for his country 
I am a man who was beaten by war
My friends and I will fight together
I am the last to die of my longtime friends
We will always protect each other
I tried to save them but I couldn't
Together, we'll be heroes
Alone, I am forgotten
My life has just begun
I don't know why I'm still alive

Sep 1, 2013

This Side of the Pit

photo from merseawildlife.blogspot.com
My hand emerged
From the rain soaked ash,
From the muck.

This time, it didn't plead or yearn
And sink back in despair.
This time it stretched, breathed,
And landed firmly on a craggy rock.

It smiled. My hand smiled.
It knew what had just happened.
It didn't know ahead of time
it was going to grasp the rock.
But it knew now,
the way only hands can know,
The inevitable unfolding of events
That was sure to follow.

The force that caused
My hand to fiercely grip
Next made my arm to flex and coil.
This arm that hung dormant for many lives
With no resistance,
Now surged with ambition.

My body follows
Rising up.
Emerging from the deep.
My leg lifts a foot.
My foot finds placement on the rock.
The solid rock.

How free. How firm. How present
Is the rock.
I stand.
I stand!
I stand on solid rock.
I stand solid on the rock!

I walk and
Almost don't look back.
But I want to remember
What it looks like from this side of the pit.

Aug 14, 2013

In Which Heroes Are All Dead

And the heavens opened
And half of all the people were swallowed.
The other half.

And half of the remaining ran
Forever. They didn't stop.
They're still running.

And half of those that stood
paralyzed, eventually decayed.

Others sat down and cried
until their tears were salt ran dry.

Some started counting rocks.
They don't know why.
They sort and stack and rearrange.

I was standing, watching, when I finally woke.
I saw it all and did nothing.
I'm still standing. But awake.

A few, I see, dance.
I want to dance, but I stand.
Their dance is not of joy, but to chase away the fear.

Silent movies play in my head
In which heroes are all dead.
But I'm awake. And here.

Aug 12, 2013