Word of the year 2017

In early December, it grew bitterly cold in Arkansas. I stoked the wood stove full day in and day out, wore my fuzziest pajama pants, and only went outside to feed and water the chickens, pups, and cats. The icy wind tunneled through Duncan Hollow, determined to freeze the fresh water I’d poured for the animals the moment I poured it.

Sometimes the weather matches my mood. It did then. My father-in-law died the first week of December. A few days later, every leaf clinging stubbornly to the tall oak trees in our woods fell silently. In my grief, I didn’t even notice them falling. One morning as I drank my coffee, I glanced out the glass door in my office, overlooking the trails where the old barn used to be. A week earlier, some of the trees held onto their crunchy brown jackets in stubborn refusal to let go of autumn. That morning, I was met by bleak winter.

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Gulin, China–One of the images I focused on 

During that cold, bitter time, God came to me through images of smooth lakes, calm water, and iridescent moonlit walks I took when I lived at my old house. He came to me through a specific song I’d long forgotten but dearly loved, a soothing song I listened to repeatedly when I first loved it and listened to again this December while meditating. I pictured my father-in-law beckoning me to follow him to a still, quiet, joyful place when I felt overwhelmed by grief. Christ came to me through a story of a group of very manly men who were scared to death by a storm, so scared they couldn’t help but wake up their Leader and ask Him for help in the middle of the night. Christ spoke to me by sharing a specific word with me which, for two months, I thought was my focus word for 2017, a word which tied all these things loosely together.

But I never felt solid about writing about this word or sharing specific details about these things on my blog. So I didn’t. I’ve grown to write less and less for my personal blog, partly out of necessity for lack of time, and partly because what matters most to me is deeply personal, so personal and spiritual I’m unwilling to splay it online unless I feel compelled.

I also hesitated to land on that word because its meaning, for me, denoted a lack of color and life. And while I knew I’d needed that word desperately during December and January, while grieving deeply and walking in quiet, solitary pain, I was ready for more.

Last weekend, I walked a labyrinth with my friends at a spiritual retreat and let my feet fall into rhythm, purposely following an earthen path countless others have trod in an effort to find 30 minutes of peace. Afterward, I chatted with two ladies while the afternoon sun warmed our faces on the way back to the lodge. One of them shared with me about the growth of her small business. This peaked my interest since I opened my own business less than one year ago. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she shared something about one of her associates mentioning that it was important to let things happen. I wish I could remember the exact words; maybe I’m not supposed to, and maybe those words don’t matter.

What matters is in that moment, God gave me my focus for this year.

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Ozark National Forest

I walked to the creek running beneath the bridge we crossed to return to the lodge and looked down. The water shone. Several bright yellow leaves lay in the water below.  Some of the leaves seemed still, and others moved at varying speeds in the water below, some in the current and others on the outskirts. Those leaves were not concerned with the temperature, the wind, the light, or the people around them. They weren’t concerned with the other objects in the water, not even logs or wild animals, because the water was powerful enough to maneuver the leaves around objects, even if it took a little time. They were simply being carried by the water, and they kept moving wherever the water carried them.

I am a leaf. He is the Water.

 

 

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.

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Trying out my baby's puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

Trying out my baby’s puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

“Will you make me some flan?”

I scribbled this barely legible note with my left hand while nursing my daughter a few hours after having my tongue biopsied.

“Flan?” My husband looked at my curiously.

“Oh. Custard. I have no idea why I wrote ‘flan.’ We’ve never made flan.” Apparently the nitrous oxide had a longer lasting effect than I’d realized, and I’d mentally tripped into the tasty world of the Food Network.

Banned from talking for a few days, aside from mambo-jumbo baby talk with my daughter, which mostly consisted of echoing her adorable noises, I found myself in quite a predicament.

Silence is no stranger to me. I’ve learned to be quiet and still and meditate on Scripture, particularly in the mornings. I love writing, and for me, writing requires complete silence and total concentration. I’m surprisingly introverted, and I relish the lack of shallow conversation and the peaceful sound of all things at rest. I once spent an entire year without watching television or movies in my own home, partly due to budgetary necessity, and didn’t miss the din one bit.

But in my younger days, particularly prior to much spiritual reflection, step-taking in my recovery program, and relational maturation, I used silence as a weapon.

“Silence is often the loudest voice.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes. Yet, like all things, silence can be used benevolently or maliciously. I mastered the silent treatment. I pity former partners and family members who witnessed my silent-treatment skills. You might cross me, lie to me, steal from me, cheat on me, or verbally abuse me, but by golly, you would suffer as a result. I withheld myself. For days, sometimes weeks.

Silence has served me well as a means to closer communion with Christ. And it served me all too well as a survival skill and crutch, a tool by which I slowly destroyed relationships and tore away layers of others’ self-esteem. Since I no longer allow myself to wallow in self-pity for any length of time, and since I do my best to avoid the passive-aggressive tendency to resort to the silent treatment in times of relational turmoil, the prescription to be silent due to my biopsy felt like a prison sentence.

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Although we live in a fairly isolated area, lovingly referred to as “The Sticks,” I relish every opportunity to communicate with my two favorite people, both of whom happen to reside in our home. We talk about everything. Well, my husband and I talk about everything. My daughter listens, I think, and attempts to respond by smiling, frowning, and creating a cacophony of amusing sounds.

Communication is the artery that keeps the soul of our family alive. If we stop communicating, which presents itself mostly in the form of verbalizing our thoughts and feelings, we cut off the flow of love and joy and laughter between us. Scribbling notes served its purpose for a few days, but it wasn’t the same as immediately sharing a joke or insight. Humming lullabies and hymns to my daughter pacified her need to hear my voice to some extent, but the puzzled look on her face spoke volumes to me.

Thankfully, the results of my biopsy were benign. My tongue has mostly healed, and I’m able to sing, chat, and pray aloud again painlessly.

I’m thankful, though, for the temporary hole in my tongue and for the silent treatment imposed upon me. Sometimes, you must lose a thing before you can fully realize its significant place in your life. Words are not simply words. They’re the glue holding the three of us together. I’m determined to choose mine wisely, to speak softly, and let nothing clog up the lifeline between us.