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Still Life #1

There are a few moments burning
behind my eyes, set as anchors
between the muddle of everyday memories.
Most blur into each other and meld
into this impression of life
as I lived it, but a few moments remain,
hooking me back to their time.

I laid my baby in his crib.
His forehead was pressed into my chest,
one hand between my arm and ribs,
the other in the hair at the back of my neck.
It was dark but light from the hallway
lit his room in a long rectangle.
I heard his determined breaths in their sleep rhythm
over the heater and humidifier. He gets so
warm right when he falls asleep –
a sudden spike in temperature
right as he turns boneless in my arms.
His foot twitched against my hip.
I laid him in his crib and knew
deeply that surge of heartbreak that comes
every night, my last glimpse of him
in this day’s light. Tomorrow he is a new baby:
one more tooth, new consonants, one more step
closer to crawling and walking. While he sleeps,
my heart misses the baby he was.

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Fully Man

He lived his years as one of us,
skin reddened by sun,
hands full of splinters,
footsore with strength spun
out and worn away by work.
He knew colds and aches,
cuts and sprains, wore hunger daily
and felt wrenching heartbreaks.
Fatigue, sleepless nights, itching
and sweat were his to share
with those he joined on Earth.
Born who-knows-where,
grown into a cracking voice
then a man who angered all
who did not know him well.
A man who pressed into his call
regardless of the cost, and still
he lost his very life.
What reward, to die in pain –
to die bearing all the strife
he never caused, hearing
mocking voices calling for his death.
He who formed mankind from dust
was slain, and his mortal breath
committed his spirit to God.
Yet that damning loss
was how he claimed us:
our instrument of death, the cross,
his instrument of life.
Those hours of suffering
were when he named us
each as his, offering
us life to live abundantly.
This his greatest act of love:
While men were killing God below,
he reigned supreme above.
Extending to us freedom
as we stripped life away,
he triumphed over sin and rose,
and death is held at bay.

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When you sum up my entire life in a paragraph in print,
please get all the dates right and say how well it went.
I never meant to die someday, but always thought I would,
So I’ve done my best to make it fair, and I expect it to be good.

I thought you’d start with baby years and how I was so cute,
but given my reflection now, the point seems rather moot.
I won a lot of ribbons next, in spelling bees and pools,
but would rather be remembered as the reigning queen of cool.

No, that sounds somewhat petty – I’d hate to be thought shallow.
Make it funny, but profound, so I seem smart yet mellow.
Write about my college time, my flawless GPA –
or better yet, my great first job, and why I moved away.

But on second thought you might just mention this in passing:
“Her sparkling wit! Her spinach puffs! Their fame is everlasting!”
I know that all my many friends would quickly nod their heads
if they were asked, “So really, do you miss her now she’s dead?”

And then again, I love my friends, but I love my family most –
their daily life is so absurd, it’d be fun to be their ghost.
If it wasn’t for my husband, I’d be long dead of boredom,
and my kids I love so dearly I would die for them and then some.

But there’s anything life taught me with its roller coaster ways,
it’s to cling to every moment without counting down the days.
It’s by His grace I breathed at all, though now my breath grows still;
and in the center of my soul, He reigns, and always will.

Maybe you don’t need to write my obituary at all;
but on the tombstone, carve this deep:

“She listened to His call.”

Don’t waste any words on me, just write of Him who gives.
For though my bones lie ‘neath the grass, the One inside me lives.

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This heartbreak is not yours
alone to bear. Lean in closer for
the light of hope, the whisper of
simple quiet love.
Blood flows free so truth can clean
the wound, and silence brings
a still small voice teaching
joy and love, reaching
in to clean your wounds and strife
and offering instead a life
of walking into healing.
Betrayal’s unyielding
grip is all you have to lose.
Love’s clever ruse
will cover all you thought
you had to offer, all you brought,
and pour over you its grace.
Bitter rites have no place
with me, the lover of your soul,
the only god who makes you whole.

~ November 2011

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Be At Peace

Be at peace, because I AM.
This suffering and grief was shouldered by the Lamb
before your birth. All that you have faced
is known to me, and never has my grace
run out or failed. Your life is precious,
your soul yet more! These fires rage but bless.
How could you know the depth and width of love?
I closed the Garden’s gates but reigned above.
I walked with you from Garden’s cool
to the searing desert and murky pool,
where you burned and drank of all that made you ill.
I walked with you through valleys deep and still,
and upheld your face when cancer leeched
through your cousin and reached
your grandfather’s spine. I walked with you
when you turned and fled when you found you could not do
anything that mattered. I have claimed you as mine
and held you close, and this is my design:
To be the love and strength you cannot show,
and the glory you cannot know,
and the justice in a world that groans
for mercy’s healing. Struggling to walk alone
in death’s relentless march can end: Come and rest.
The bitter work of payment has made you more than blessed.
Child, do not curse your life in fear –
Be at peace. I am here.

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Prodigal Son III: Love


The father stood outside the door
In day’s last reaching shadow.
The fig tree just beyond was more
than tired, drooping low.
All he had been praying for
had still not come to pass,
and there was no way to ignore
his son did not have long to last.

Then a servant cried out, “Look!”
with something in his voice:
something in the way it shook
that made the father’s heart rejoice.
The servant pointed down the road
and watched his master run
past fields where still his eldest hoed
to a figure black against the sun.

The servant watched in wonder
and wished that he could hear
what words could heal the sunder
and bring the youngest near.
Then the bewildered eldest beckoned
when he heard the music start
and he told him that the second
son had regained his father’s heart.

But angry tears, withheld so long,
now wet the eldest’s eyes.
His sense of pride knew it was wrong
for sin to win the prize.
To hear of his father running
was more than he could bear –
he’d work alone, and not go in,
if he was the only one who cared.
And when his father came to treat,
the eldest son was galled,
and flung the offer at his feet
then went to bed appalled.

The father and his youngest silent
sat together, grinning like a fool.
They both were tired, utterly spent,
but at rest in the morning cool.
There lay remnants of a feast –
the others still asleep.
This son, so recently deceased,
had no tears left to weep
that morning after his return,
with restoration just begun.
He knew an offering of praise would burn
so he spoke into the rising sun.

“I’ll tell you, Father, and will not spare myself –
you already know the whole.
My story, from my lips, will show you as yourself:
How you spoke into my soul
when I needed such forgiveness
and yet could not even ask.
You were thinking of largesse
when I was thinking tasks.
This is all before I knew that neither life
nor death, nor present, nor past,
nor my best efforts, nor my worst strife,
could separate me from a love that lasts.
I’ll tell you how I felt rebelling,
like escaping from my cell –
the temptations were compelling
and are shameful now to tell.

‘At last!’ – I thought – ‘wings beneath my feet,
like the triumphs of a king.
Freedom’s riches smell so sweet:
I can buy anything.
I know just where to go –
far enough away to cease
to meet my friends, who know
my father’s not deceased.’
So any ties I had, I shed:
I changed my name,
and sold my family name for bread,
and taught myself to be the same
as the people living there.
And I was rich! – too rich to think
that any debts I had to bear
would be the weights that made me sink.

I was stunned when I was found
not in robes or spacious halls,
but with the pigs, on the ground
with livestock, learning calls
for unclean beasts I could not eat.
My shame was black – none ventured near
lest it be them I cursed and beat.
Deep in anger, I would not hear
any words about a father searching –
but I had not been hungry yet.
All the filth that was my living,
and yet the hunger broke me. I let
the farmer feed me with the pigs;
but he knew their worth, and mine,
and did not toss a single fig
to a fallen boy who gave no sign
of ever being able to repay.
I became too weak to leave,
and at the evening of some countless day,
my death I could perceive.

I did not expect to wake.
By some miracle of grace,
every bone and muscle quaked
and I turned my filthy face
towards home. Morning broke
red but clear, and I thought I knew
your kindness would revoke
me as a son, but give me what grew
on the edges of your fields.
To be a hired hand might serve
to be the saving shield
from all the wrath I so deserved.

If my brother had your ear, I might
be scorned, unable to return.
He warned me the very night
I left – now my face he’d surely spurn.
You had every right to do the same.
You might not have even shown me –
so thin, and giving a different name.
If my mother lived, you could not show me –
I could not have borne the shame.

Still I reversed the steps I’d taken,
now filthy, hungry, lame,
as home’s gates gently beckoned
to my broken weary frame.
The speech I’d been rehearsing
that laid aside my claim
you cut off with no cursing
nor any words of blame.
You kissed me as your child,
though I had wished you dead;
you should have me reviled,
but killed your best to have me fed.
You gave to me a second ring:
It’s life to me as blood.
I saw how love’s slow suffering
never left me when it should.

Let love be held in honor,
and grace the victor strong,
when mercy from my Father
makes healing it’s sweet song.'”

With his eldest brother listening,
the youngest’s fear had ceased.
The father offered his thanksgiving
and prayed love to increase.
The elder brother’s longing
urged his pride to be released.
He sat beside his father,
his face turned toward the east.
There was silence in the morning
where family dwelt at peace.

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Prodigal Son II: Pride



“I tried and tried – he would not heed

The wisdom I was offering

That would have calmed his restless soul.

If he had shown more self-control,

All those sins that prodded him

Would have been severed, like a withered limb

From a tree that might bear so much fruit.

Oh Father, his very roots

Were gone – your loss is not so great.

All he’d learned to do was wait

For mercy from your hand.

He did not work an hour on your land

But thought all was freely his.

Do not pray for how he is;

He’s not your problem anymore.

He hung his sonship at the door

When he took your very life in cash

And ran. A son so brash –

Why search for him? I am here –

I know my place. Year by year

I’ve worked your fields,

Finding ways to increase yields

And protect your great estate.

He was always coming home too late –

Now he’s never coming back.

There’s too much that he lacks.

Look, Father, he needs tough love

Instead of handouts from above

Until he learns to work.

There’s too much duty he has shirked.

But we – we can kill the fatted calf

And rejoice that we’re better off by half

When he’s not here, and I can bet

You will not feel such keen regret

When surrounded by your friends.

If he tries sulking back to make amends,

I’ll send him back to his new home,

And let that teach him not to roam.”