when you want to throw in the towel

photo

There is a season or two or more in every year where I am uncomfortably close to my humanity. Right now is that time and I get so tired of this old-man skin I wear, but it’s the only thing that breaks me? And I often feel more like a train wreck than a Life Artist, (even though I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive) a poor, naked wretch of a walking catastrophe, clothed with zagging cracks and spewing fissures. Yet, broken me has found that the purest expression of my union with Christ begins with the acceptance – celebration even – of my wounded side. So instead of running from the pain of it, my legs will always take the flight barreling me into the gale – I’m searching the tempest again for His wild, element-tossed face.

(I imagine the waves and His hair whipping across His eyes while He reaches for me – He’s always reaching for me.)

But this time I didn’t take the flight before I wanted to throw in the towel. No, I mean: I really wanted to throw in the towel last Tuesday. As in: I was lying on my back getting tears in my ears, sobbing like a grown-up baby because there were not good dark things closing in and pressing down; the cloud inside my head and dirt on my shoulders was too much for me to lift-up under. I’m not very good with numbers, but my brain was busy making calculations and I decided that this girl no longer wanted to pony up with her very own pound of flesh. The cost felt too high. I was a dried-up well inside a laid-flat body.

With our mattress supporting me from behind and my eyes beseeching the ceiling and my voice clogged with cry, my insides are dialed to so tender and I may have told the air in general that I didn’t want to live a purposed life anymore; that I’d take a life of careless, abundant ease instead and thankyouverymuch. I didn’t mean it, but I had to speak out anyway, otherwise my soul would’ve suffered under the weight of unspoken, crushing kind of sentiments.

If I am to burn this year, then these are the days of ash. You know how much I like “in other words”: I am up in flames and burning down to cinder dust, but if Singapore can take the ashes of their trash and build a beautiful, habitable island from it, then there is always hope for resurrection from my ashes too – Easter is just around the corner after all.

It’s tempting to not even tell you of my trials because my guilt-tripped mind will remind me that my challenges ain’t got nothin’ on some people’s, but in the words of Josh Garrels, “… we’re all castaways in need of rope, hangin’ on by the last threads of our hope…” We’re in it together, you and me and the neighbor’s niece. So I’m just fine putting the measuring stick in the cabinet where it came from, there’s no place for it in the school of life.

And what a raucous and rigorous school it is, eh? So rowdy it will kick the legs out from you just to see what arse-cheek you’ll land on first, I’m laughing from down here because I’m all cried out. The floor on your face is not a terrible place to be, the perspective changes when you’re down low, that’s for sure. And I know the One with the tempest in His face is reaching for me, I just need to go deeper than the dried-up well to my secret reservoir of WANT.

Oh, I do still want You when the day of not wanting You is over and done with.

I am importantly reminded here of Thornton Wilder’s one-act play “The Angel That Troubled The Waters” and within the lines are these good words: “Without your wounds, where would your power be? It is your wounds that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”

Ahhh, Love’s service… You can have me, if that’s the true case – the wounded being Your select soldiers. You can have me now, again.

And lastly, this whole post summed up would be just like a particular stanza from Josh Garrels song “Farther Along”: Still I get hard pressed on every side // Between the rock and a compromise // Like the truth and pack of lies fightin’ for my soul // And I’ve got no place left go // Cause I got changed by what I’ve been shown // More glory than the world has known // Keeps me ramblin’ on <— click to listen

Ramble with me, will you?

before your father sun – guest post by sarah murray

I’d like you to meet Sarah Murray.

Her words come to her between Sirius, Vega, Betelguese and lunar rays, when it’s dark and still and the Voice has no trouble piercing through the daytime shadows or night sky. Maybe she writes on her arm because there’s no paper on the bedside table, wears her holy unbinding, unwinding, undoing and becoming like a temporary tattoo on her skin. She is in the sacred space, a salvation way for the sincere followers.

She thinks I asked her here for her words, I did. But, really my request was just my way of inviting myself to her journey. She had me at this one, raw and aching post – full of curse words and soul fire. But I don’t mind curse words at all or the gambit of feelings that living life on this earth can evoke.

Today she brings a first to The Life Artist, a poem. And you probably know how much I love poetic language. Enjoy these a-to-z letters in any way they might speak to you and when you’re done soaking them in, visit Sarah Murray’s blog. She is one to watch.

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 8.56.10 AM

{Image via Flickr : Creative Commons}

You come at me with twine crossed stone hardened arrows

beaten edges thumb-printed by the passion of

warriors for your tribe

willow reeds dried, broken

twisted morphed into

shapes untold

to spirit trees

set in burning eye

of Father sun

baked the wick

right out.

Before your points pursued me

hands were weaving

useless pieces

turning hopeless

into open baskets

Before your points pursued me

hands were berry deep

in harvest of

gentle gathering

seeking life

seeking health

seeking long awaited harvest

Before your points pursued me

I was drenched in

river pools of brother moon

cascading cool

fragrant rest

soothing

stripped layers

of bruising

Before your points pursued me

ferns trembled

angel wings the pillars of

moss cathedrals

birches glimmering

piers of hope

through blackened scars

I didn’t hear you coming

O great one

deerskin covered

honey laden breath

your point in small of back

Stained my fingers reaching

evidence untrained in ways might

Mother earth would speak for me

in council with your Kings

Trespass in darkness

yes

Unlike your ways

these broken baskets

burdened by your warriors stings.

unlike yet not unworthy

bare

these feet

traverse the holy things.

she is not her circumstances

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 6.16.19 AM

{Forbidden, an ink drawing by Tracie Cheng}

Her name is Diamond.

By the time she was 21 she’d had three children with three different baby-daddies and been around a lion’s share of city blocks. Her eyes are as deep brown as the dirt on the earth, but not as dark as her heart or as heavy as her shoulders feel under the weight of ongoing drug abuse, failed relationships and the guilt of neglecting her children. She’s chosen her addiction over kissing her kids goodnight, goddamn habit she can’t kick for the love of anything – even though she kicks herself to sleep every evening when she lays her head down on a different street corner, or at the local bus stop depending on the weather. Diamond would give thanks to the powers that be – if she believed in them – for the pretty looks that make her so successful at panhandling for money as well as selling the poems she writes on her wrist on the rare occasion when she’s hit with inspiration. Maybe in five years or never, Diamond will have just enough ounces of willpower to get straight and finish high school. Maybe in five years or never she’ll be alive and clean enough to raise her own kids. Maybe in five years or never she’ll have a job and live in her own home, like she always dreamed.

It will either be in five years…or never…

Today I’m finishing this narrative over at Deeper Story, join me by clicking —–> HERE <—–.

to The Austin Morrison on his (38th!!!!) birthday

Depending on who you are and how your emotions roll, you might need to run and get yourself some tissues…or a barf bag. Because it’s about to get all personal and sappy up in here.

(The following story is narrated with permission from my muse, The Austin Morrison.)

***

Before he walks out the front door and into his work world, he everytime kisses me on the lips and on the forehead, in that order – we are lovers and best friends, you see. We’ve been together in the married way for nearly 14 years and still text each other creative and saucy variations of “I miss you” and “I love you” on most days when we’re apart for just 8 hours, more or less. Austin and I, we’re each other’s favorite people still – even though there was a year-long time when we weren’t each other’s favorite at all.

View More: http://desireastottrodgers.pass.us/morrisons-february-2014

Image by my lovely Desirea Still

Our marriage has had it’s un-easy parts and isn’t any shape of perfect. But we’ve stuck hard like steel to our vows, staying together way past our feelings of wanting to undo us so bad. I think the key to our stuck-to-it-ness  is that we both worked tirelessly on our individual and mutual transformation. And when I say “worked tirelessly”, what I really mean is: we crawled bone-weary and panting on our hands and knees, thirsting for the kind redemption we’d only heard about but hadn’t experienced ourselves. Turns out redemption isn’t a mirage in the middle of the godforsaken desert.

But this isn’t a post about our marriage or the [in]perfections it’s lined with. This is a post about the guy I fall asleep next to and wake up beside, who bears the arctic of my toes between the tropics of his thighs all winter long, grabs my legs and moves them there to his warmth even before I get the chance.

This is a post about the guy who comes up behind me in the bathroom when I’m washing and readying, meets his nose to my neck, deep-breathes and always says: “I just love your smell”. (Who knew that skin-scents could go together like puzzle pieces?)

This is a post about the guy who pulls in from 10 hours on the job and slides next to me in the kitchen to finish getting dinner done, who doesn’t know the definition of “women’s work” because his love crosses over and covers the multitude of labels and lines.

Years ago he was a drummer by trade, a Christian “rock god” to be more specific about the ways we would all joke with him. He was funky with his hair and designer in his jeans and had the kind of features to make all the fan-girls go swoon. But more than that, he was a darn good drummer and loved to create beats and heats with the tips of his wooden sticks. Making music filled him, expanded his chest and made him feel like he was bringing heaven’s sibilants and harmonies down to earth for the listeners to have an experience with a Chorus greater than themselves.

Well, the thing about having a husband who lived half his life on the road is that every time he’d come home, SOMEbody would get pregnant. (Hint: that somebody was me.) When this baby-got-made thing happened for the third time in three years, his rhythmic income couldn’t feed our “number five family” anymore, so he did what he had to do and laid those banging sticks down to rest and picked up a construction hammer instead.

<commence identity crisis and depression>

From that hammer-grab to 9 years later, he co-owns a successful decorative concrete contracting business, even though he’s never earned a degree from any institution. Hard work and humility take a person further than fancy papers, it seems in this every case. But more than being successful in business, he is successful in personhood. Because Austin Morrison went from doing something that he thought totally satisfied all his soul-parts to giving it up overnight and after subsequent years of identity crisis and depression he came up out of a few dark and rigorous trenches holding the torch of one battled-for, hard-earned lesson: who you are is much more important than what you do.

God’s kindness in the form of seemingly tragic circumstances stripped him of so much false identity and my Austin became his true self through the surrendering of his own desires. I don’t know many people who work a vocation they don’t love and still emerge as more of themselves, but the emergence brings to mind a quote our friend Johnny once said to him: “It’s better to have stepped out of the boat and discovered you’re sinking than to never realise the boat you stayed in your whole life was full of holes. When we sink in the water we learn to swim, when we sink in a boat, we drown.”

View More: http://desireastottrodgers.pass.us/morrisons-february-2014

Image by my lovely Desirea Still 

Austin, you stepped out of the boat and you learned to swim, took wave after wave within life’s gale. A gale that forced itself against your skin, weathered your face, pushed your head under and colored grey in your hair. You met the elements duel-style, just another challenge to make your soul-muscles grow and now we have three boys who know a singular definition for self-sacrifice and servanthood – a greater gift a father can give a son would be hard to find and those hard-won character traits have never looked so good on a person as they do on you, but I am a utterly biased.

Lover, I would tell you this: I see more of Christ in you than anyone else I know, hands down everywhere. And I know you don’t always see the glory of Jesus in what you do, you’re not “out there” using Gospel-words, spreading them over the scope of the internet or standing on some mountain-high podium preaching for the masses to hear. No, what you do is much more valuable to the Kingdom and to me than all that – because the only pontificating you do is in the prostrating of your own life, day in and day out; sunrise to sundown. You live the good Message, which is much more important than all the people in the world who are saying a lot of good things, but without the real-life-living to back their sermons up.

You are relentless in your sacrifice, bending low and high and backwards and forwards for this family without an atom of resentment – ever. Your humility and steadiness and love have inspired more of my own shaping, shifting and stretching.

You are a masterpiece of redemptive art and I’m so proud to stand by your side and introduce you to everyone as my husband. I don’t know how much God’s hand orchestrated our union, but by the look and feel of it I would say They moved heaven and earth to make sure we’d be together. You are my BEST and I’d marry you again and again and again.

Happy Birthday, my Lover. I am the MOST glad you were born.

becoming my name – guest post by bethany bassett

Someone once told me that the first few sentences of any written any thing need to have a darn good hook so the readers get well and truly caught on your words. Now, I don’t know for sure about that. But, I could care a whole lot less about a darn good hook and a whole lot more about telling the darn good truth, which is why I invited my bosom friend Bethany into my Life Artist home here today. She is one fine kind of a truth-teller – whether she be speaking the comic, the tragic or everything in between, Bethany will make you laugh and bleed. And I love her so much that I wanted to give you the opportunity to love her too – let’s all just share the love, man!

I don’t think I’m making a bold claim when I say that this story will make you feel things breaking free and shifting around inside you and I would be real honored if you would pull up your heart, stay for a minute and enjoy this lovely lady of ours.

Love,
E

~~~

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 2.00.44 PM

Image SOURCE

Out of all the insults leveled at me as a child, my name was the hardest to bear.

Bethany.

In its syllables, all the other taunts—“goody two-shoes,” “cover-up chicken,” “freak”—condensed into a three-pronged weapon that I sharpened with my own arsenal of self-loathing. I didn’t meet another Bethany until my teens, so for years, I imagined myself the sole embodiment of the name. I was told it meant “house of God.” I knew better though.

Bethany meant little girl, over-young, embarrassingly naïve. It meant one deserving of abuse. It meant unworthy, unlovable, the lowest common denominator in all of God’s harsh kingdom. It mocked me with an air of churchy pomp that was neither warranted nor wanted. When I heard my name spoken, no matter the context, I cringed. It felt like a prison sentence, this identity printed as bold bureaucratic fact on my birth certificate.

My middle name was even worse, a Christian buzzword that sounded oversized and ironic coming from my lips. I had been told what it meant too, and the theological implications spoke of a God who saw the worst in me, who obligated me to eternal servitude by deigning to save a wretch like me. I never said my middle name without flushing inmate-orange. I vowed never to tell it to anyone who didn’t absolutely have to know.

Our church nurtured a conviction that names are destined by God and hold powerful meaning, and I knew that going by a nickname would be counted unto me as sin. Nevertheless, as I entered my teens and began to carve a new facet of myself out of each new inch of freedom, I asked friends to call me “Beth” or “B” or “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” if they had to. Anything other than the name-nooses in which I had been choking. Anything to forget, however temporarily, the shame and condemnation that were my birthright.

~~~

God and I have taken quite a journey together in the years since. We’ve climbed theological mountains and forded deep wounds, and though I literally settled on the far side of the sea—immigrating with my husband and daughters from the U.S. to Italy—I have never been able to shake him off my trail. We’ve risen on the wings of new-dawning mercies, and we’ve descended into hells so terrible and vast that I was positive of his abandonment. Locked in the absolute darkness of depression, I’ve thrown my faith to the wind only to have it placed gently back in my hands, luminous with perspectives that I couldn’t have seen except in the absence of all other light.

He’s sidestepped the quick fixes and the Sunday School answers, and I never stop being surprised by what God looks like outside the confines of my past. He’s my favorite iconoclast—this God who sends me to Zumba class to shimmy out the shame, this God who refuses the burden of religious urgency for us both, this “he” who gladly appears to me as a “she” when I’m in danger of wandering back into the patriarchy minefield. That God cares enough to flip my preconceptions on their heads floors me with gratitude.

In my quest to fully inhabit this upside-down kingdom, I started writing through it, taking up threads of story to weave new definitions for my life. I found God’s fingerprints on the running trail and in my dirty kitchen, in the moments when parenting inspiration blew a lifetime of inflexible “principles” out of the water and during stressful situations in which, by miracle alone, no shit was lost. And it all came full circle after one such post a little over a year ago.

I had cobbled together enough scraps of courage to share my experience with postpartum depression and the little girl who’d helped lift me out. This will always be a tender subject for me, and I was still reeling from a vulnerability hangover when I opened up the comment section and saw what Erika had written:

“I wonder . . . This new Grace your chewing, savoring and swallowing . . . Bethany, I think it’s your name – you know? Your secret name.”

Something happened to me in that moment. It was as if pure Mystery had brushed up against my skin, and the static from that encounter crackled from the roots of my hair down my spine and straight into my core. I’m telling you, my soul got goose bumps. There it was, typed out for all the world to see—my identity, the one written not on government letterhead but in between the lines of story. Erika had just confirmed what I already felt to be true despite my thousand and one reasons for skepticism.

I still had trouble accepting it. For one thing, I am just beginning to scratch the surface of this aspect of God-nature. I can more easily keep my eyes on a single drop of water diving down Niagara Falls than I can keep a solid definition of grace in focus. For another thing, the majority of my actions are decidedly grace-less. I snap at my kids on a daily basis, bite my husband’s head clean off over minor (or even imaginary) offenses, and judge other people’s motives as if it were my job. Maybe twenty years from now I could earn the name, but not now. Surely this was some kind of clerical error among the Godhead.

However, I couldn’t deny that Grace was the perfect summation of everything God had shown me about myself since we started our cross-continent adventure. The avenues of forgiveness we’d paced, the redemption stories we’d penned, the sheer gift of God-is-love giving my guts a daily makeover… all of it distilled into that one word.

It wasn’t until my eyes tripped over Romans 4:17 one morning that I was finally able to see some order in the enigma: “Abraham was first named ‘father’ and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing.” (MSG) I am the nothing, the former dead girl walking, the taunted, the shamed, the powerless. I haven’t made it there yet, wherever there may be. This is the upside-down kingdom we’re talking about though, and in this kingdom, the name precedes the becoming. One word blooming slowly to life. Just God’s style.

I’m still in the earliest stages of growing into my name. I’d say the ratio on a good day is 2% confident acceptance and 98% blind trust… but maybe that’s exactly how it should be. All I know for sure is that my identity is inexorably tied to Grace. Erika caught a glimpse of that a year ago, and her recognition was the final nudge I needed to accept that this name is really, truly mine—a personalized gift from a God who knew that my little-girl heart had been diminished by names, who wanted to engage with me at the most basic level of who I am.

What Erika didn’t know at the time, what she couldn’t possibly have known, is that Grace really is my name.

Bethany Grace.

It’s the middle name I vowed to keep secret out of shame. The same name that God gave me two decades later in secret to overwrite the shame. The name that, from the beginning, held all the promise of my becoming in its single syllable.

Every which way you look at it, I’ve always been Grace.

~~~

You can read more of Bethany’s good words at her blog: Coffee-Stained Clarity