But I . . .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have never cared about holiness. When I read Scripture, sang songs, or heard conversations about God’s holiness, I felt wholly unmoved. It would probably be a stretch to characterize my reaction as unimpressed, but there was probably a little bit of the Makalyla Maroney face inside of me when I’d contemplate the concept of holiness.

Over the years, my reaction bothered me. Why did other Christians feel so awed, moved, and inspired by God’s holiness–while I felt nothing at all?

My personality type typically leads to a more analytical, critical approach to everything, including spirituality. So I tried not to hammer myself too harshly for my lack of sentiment. But regarding other aspects of God, and in other areas of my relationship with God, I experienced plenty of light bulb moments, ahas, and spiritual awakenings. I wanted to understand this holiness thing, too.

This year I decided to embark on a journey to “get it.” I studied root words in Greek and Hebrew. I devoured Scripture related to holiness and specific stories in the Bible which grabbed my attention. I also started reading A.W. Tozer again, an author I’d tried out in early adulthood but hadn’t found captivating at that point in life. I had too much drama swirling in my life at that point pulling my attention away from what really mattered. 15 years later, I’m able to concentrate. And I guess what they say is true–when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This time, God has shown Himself to me through Tozer in spades.

I’m finally grasping that the power of understanding anything about Who God Is lies in contrast. When I see who I really am, and compare who I am to Who He Is, then I understand the value in Who He Is.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for those of us who’ve struggled with playing God. Trusting God is difficult, particularly for those of us who’ve experienced trauma that  seems to demonstrate that God is not there for us, that God does not come through for us when the rubber hits the road, and that we must rely on our ourselves or be thrown to the wolves. We begin to develop our own plans, a sturdy sense of self-reliance, and an ego akin to a tumor whose mass increases at an alarming rate.

Therein lies tension.

But all is never lost when God’s in the mix. The beautiful thing is that while it’s true that what we’ve been through is often beyond horrific–and many of you reading this will not relate, and that’s okay, because many of you will, and you will find hot tears falling down your face as you read this just as mine are sliding into my coffee as I write this–it’s ALSO true that what we have been through is not who we are. Let me say that again so you can whisper it to yourself.

What you have been through is not who you are.

We often allow what we have been through to define us. That’s called spiritual warfare.

If we’re not what we’ve been through, then who are we? Ah, the journey really starts here. For some of us, we never knew who we were to begin with. For others, it’s a return to a better place.

Regardless, when I honestly and objectively look at who I am today, even on my best days and after years of diligent spiritual work, I can guarantee a few things. I’m broken. I’m incapable of total consistency to principles, excellent decision-making, perfection, or any other concept or spiritual practice/discipline. As much as I want to be, I’m not self-sufficient. I need help–I need God, and I need other people (mentors and accountability partners). I’m not going to last forever–I’m going to die. I wish I could say I know everything, but I don’t; I’m not that wise, and without Google and the library, I’d be pretty lost. And admittedly, I try my best to love others, but I don’t like several people. I attempt to be kind, gracious, and generous, but there are many times when I’m just going through the motions (and if you knew what was going through my head, you’d give me coal in my stocking next year for Christmas).

That’s just the honest truth about me. And it’s the honest truth about you, too, because we are people. If you believe those things are not the truth about you, you are likely incapable of being honest with yourself, and that’s another problem entirely (and another blog post for another time).

And here is the honest truth about God.

He does not need us, but He wants us. He is fully self-sufficient, but He loves to see/hear us serving and loving–doing God-like things which honor Him. God lasts forever, and God just IS–time as we know it isn’t the way God operates. God is not malleable; He doesn’t change, so He’s completely consistent and reliable. God knows everything–which isn’t the same as saying God causes everything. God is completely faithful, and is the only One we can depend on wholeheartedly no matter what. God really is good, just, and loving 100% of the time. And He is holy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGod is the absolute antithesis of who I am. Because God is God–and I am not.

I have been rereading Isaiah. This morning, I got to chapter 49. I stopped at this verse and began imagining other ways God might speak to us similarly. The first portion is Isaiah 49:15-16. The rest is from me.

But I . . . 

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget
I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you
on the palms of my hands.”

Though they interrupted,
I hear you.

Though you were invisible,
Now you are seen.

Though no one applauded for years,
Here I AM, rejoicing over you.

Though they said ‘stop crying,’
I weep with you.

Though he stripped you of dignity,
I vindicate.

Though frailty ravaged your frame,
I make all things new.

Though dreams atrophied,
I restore years the locust has eaten.

Though cacophony and chaos cluttered days,
I still waves.

Though they’ve proven liars,
I will always be true.

Though they are,
But I AM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American sky, 1874

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What would it be like?–

I wander, alone, in quiet woods one winter night

staring into the best sky I’ve seen in some time–

to see night like a true American

resting in silence, nestled in true tall whistling

prairie grass glittered with bison,

sure about the Source

of each shining white flame

flickering above?

 

No choking fumes

trespass illumination

muffling stars like fireflies

in dirty porch jars,

a muddled soup overhead,

misguiding hearts and eyes,

leading us to false stars,

cold drones,

unarmed constellations.

 

What it must have been like

to never wonder whether

sparks blaze or

man-made neon simply fades,

whether pale trails are

falling stars or just crowded rows

of first-class midlife crises

gripping sweaty glasses, closing our

minds on a red-eye flight

to nowhere

fast.

 

-Written by Bethany Wallace, March 2018

 

Snow, pianissimo

581291_556787911262_2008318683_nThe past few mornings the weather has deceived us. Jack Frost has made it impossible for me to leave the house without preheating my car for at least five minutes, deglazing the windshield while begging for three more hugs from my daughter while she watches Wallykazam wave words into existence with a magical stick. This morning I listened to JJ Heller’s new CD (which is her best yet, by the way) while making my way through the chilly countryside. As I approached the long, winding hill connecting our part of the world to what resembles a city, I snapped out of my piano-tuned trance-like state as I noticed what looked like huge, puffy, white snowflakes fluttering by.

Was it really cold enough to be snowing? I felt confused, but I tried not to think too long or too hard about the facts. It was breathtaking. I nearly gasped and appreciated the view. The feather-like snowflakes silently passed by my car.

Suddenly my gaze moved ahead to a large, ugly, black truck. Oh. A chicken truck.

The feather-like snowflakes were not snowflakes. They were feathers—chicken feathers.

I initially laughed out loud at my own mistaken perception.

Two seconds later I felt devastated by reality. Hundreds of helpless, frigid birds boxed inside the ugly truck blinked at me.

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With one of our chicks last spring

 

My mind immediately recalled a poem by Lola Haskins, “Playing Hiroshima.”

Playing Hiroshima

There are no finer audiences in the world
Andre Pogorelich, in 
Pianists Speak

Did you know the ones with colds wear surgical masks
so as to disturb no one?
They do.

Did you know their small hands lie folded in their laps
like boats?
They do.

Did you know they kneel kimonoed for etudes, as tea
cooled by a mother’s breath?
They do.

Did you know that skin can fall like snow?
Softly . . .  pianissimo?
They do.

–Lola Haskins, Forty-Four Ambitions for the Piano

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Why my brain made this connection this morning—15 or 16 years after studying as a college student at age 19 or 20 under the tutelage of poet Andrea Hollander–I do not know.

But I do know this: what happened to me this morning when Lola Haskins’ poem came to mind is my lifetime goal as a writer–to create such significant impressions through writing–to lend my readers experiences, nearly, while reading–that they might make connections to my words through their own experiences years later.

There is no higher compliment. So here’s to you, Lola Haskins. And to you, Andrea Hollander, for being my conduit to a world of beautiful words.

Grief, personified

Grief is nearly a person.

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He pulls up his small rickety
wooden chair and sits
quietly beside me.

He is my ill-mannered guest.

He never arrives
promptly, showing up at the most
inopportune moments, scratching his
chair legs across marble tiles
during grand openings, portraits gawking.

Or shoving the splintery old chair
right in the midst of our crowded
Thanksgiving table last year, just after
laughter filled our bellies.

What a bastard child, Grief.
Wanted by no one, really.

Grief is my pseudo friend
who wears out his welcome,

My whining toddler
his yearning insatiable
even after countless
tears, tissues, Ben & Jerry’s,
pounds.

Grief is my fifth half-brother
little known yet blood-close,
watching me rest my weary
forehead upon her shoulder
tonight, staring rudely
from the corner.

Grief sometimes has palpable
clay-covered palms, a ghost-like
lover, whispering memories on
wings of blue and black butterflies
at dawn in my backyard, or piercing
through winter’s horizon across
my frozen windshield.

Grief has never written
me a long, perfumed goodbye
letter. He simply stops
dragging his rickety chair
legs across my floor,
leaving me
with silence
again.

–Bethany Wallace, 10/14/2015

Platitudes

In memory of my friend Tara’s father, Jerry, who recently relocated to The High Resting Place, and in celebration of National Poetry Day (October 8), I’ll share this poem I wrote today during my lunch break. 

Platitudes

I am tired of losing
good people.

Contaminated by asbestos, you never
even lounged around, smoking Marlboro Reds,
drinking Budweiser or downing whiskey shots.

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Tara and Jerry

You built a farm
while you were young
and able-bodied. You taught and led
countless lives.

You focused.

You were relentless.

You raised your girls
with all your might,
then turned back the clock
30 years later and fathered
your grandson in lieu of
cruises and red car pursuits.

You gave every ounce of yourself.

Praying over you, soaking your
hands with tears in silent sobs,
I only asked Him
to let you go.

Enough is enough.

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Liam, Jerry, and Tara

Platitudes make me puke. But I
understand this now:

“Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

–Bethany Wallace, 10/8/15

Quantifiable

Quantifiable     

Love is certainly
not
girl’s best friend, glitter pawned
for tears
post-divorce.

It is not awkward
silence
holding its breath between
us, heavier than the other
shoe suspended above
me, ever threatening
to fall.

It isn’t laying my body down
for the sake of relationship
a live carcass
my soul featured as missing–
plastered on cardboard milk cartons and
glanced at during morning coffee
then forgotten.

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Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

But
love is

In the six hundred seventy two swings
of your axe, wood split
to stoke our stove
to kindle flames
into fires
inside our walls.

In the forty five thousand nine hundred
minutes spent smoothing
my only flesh
and blood’s auburn curls
while nursing her, singing dimly lit
tunes from Methodist hymnals.

In the three-pound
catfish, wriggling and flailing
its way to your parents’
house. In the smile you
kept while I showed
my prize-willing catch
to your dad, never deflating
my big-fish ego.

Our love is not
effortless.

By Bethany Wallace, 2015

                                                           

Irisis

-I rarely post my own poetry because, let’s be honest, it’s more difficult to write, if you want to write it well. I’m sure I could revise it endlessly, but I’m happy enough with it to share it, especially since it relates to my feelings about Easter and why it’s always been my favorite holiday. Enjoy.

Irises

Ashes silently sway like snowflakes
all the long, hard winter
through dark, bitter nights.

I sit and burn
alone. Smoke and stars mingle
overhead. A lone coyote cries.

He creeps through broken
brush and limbs, hoping for fate
to fill his emptiness.

I know spring will come.
Not soon enough.

Maybe Mary felt this way,
too, her rotting brother Lazarus
wasting away for four days’ worth
of eternity.

She waited and wept and lost
hope.

011This Easter, the tightly wrapped
tips of the irises planted
decades ago in my flower bed,

Purple tips like paintbrushes
dipped in royal blood

Wait

Ready to color the whole world,

To unfurl themselves,
to live again.

–Bethany Wallace