Book Review (sort of): Wild in the Hollow, by Amber C. Haines

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I don’t know if it’s because Amber C. Haines is a poet, or because reading this book is a little like breaking open a pomegranate and exposing ripe seeds clustered in their hollows, the red of their juices lingering as stains on your fingers after you bring out the fruit—but this memoir, Wild in the Hollow, calls for something other than the typical way I do a book review. Instead, I’m sharing twelve found poems taken from Amber’s words (including page references to the book).

What is a found poem? The Academy of American Poets defines it:

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.

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1. From pages 49-51:
It didn’t take me long to see how different I was in the church

So tidy and clean
the church so aware of how it looked.

No one talked about brokenness. I did my best
to look good enough for the keeping, but—

How broken I was. How I didn’t fit. It seemed the rest
of the church had healed up good. Either that

or no one knew how to grieve
the stories, the rumbles of despair. Most days I thought

I would drown. Fresh in the memory of wild back roads
I walked in and asked, “Will you love me now?”

—–

2. From page 54:
My mamaw

She rocked in her chair.
She told me secrets. We became
so close in our brokenness, spoke
in secret language before she slipped away
into her real life. Her confessions
unified us, her perfect love for me
cast out fear.

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3. From page 54:
So much hammered doctrine

was an effort to control,
to harness the Holy Spirit so we could feel
better about ourselves—
a measuring stick superimposed into
the very hand of God.

—–

4. From page 56:
What is Scripture?

What is Scripture if
it doesn’t pour in,
transform,
and then
flow out from the depths,
especially
as love?

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5. From page 57:
I wish I had known

The depravity of man is only
the realization of the hollow,
the need. Depravity
should only imply that we
can be filled
with God.

—–

6. From page 58:
Mercy

Isn’t it sometimes
God’s mercy
that we crash?

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7. From page 111:
Friendship Beginning

a long, silent pause
like an orchestra
before the music begins

like a cellist holding position
with the bow hovering
just above the strings

—–

8. From page 141:
A Word of Truth

Do not forget
that the Spirit of God
indwells you.

And just like that,
the ash blew over, and I began
to burn.

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9. From page 173:
Repentance

a sorrow
a recognized need
a change of mind, the turning point
a place of release
a place to go

—–

10. From page 173:
After Repentance

obedience
moving forward
into righteousness, peace, joy
propelling the kingdom of God

—–

11. From page 186:
Good News

Isn’t brokenness
the fertile ground for the seed
of hope? We are weak ones, but
this is not bad news.

—–

12. From page 197:
In this one moment

I have seen my children
run naked and wild. I have seen them
without a drop of shame.

Making Paper

Wood-shreds, cotton, flax, grass—
plant fibers beaten to expose
inner life, so old life will pass

into something new. Water-softened,
washed, mixed into slurry, ready to be
made and molded. And pressed.

Sheet bared to the sun, blessed
and made useful in the drying,
in the exposure to the Sun.

I have a memory; every crease remains,
intricate folds of experience
shaping origami me. He unfolds,

some parts tucked in so tightly
I tear in the unfolding. I tear
in every unfolding, but

His hand smoothes over.
Surrendered in the unfolding, I wait
and He writes.

Spirit-ink penetrates, bleeds
all the way through as nib makes
graceful strokes recording
flourishes of kindness, goodness,
grace on me.

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Tim Keller’s Reality Checks

For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Tim Watson leads us in discussing Part Two: Problems with Work.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

I have a few problems. These problems came out when I read Part Two of Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor. The chapter titles?

Chapter Five: Work Becomes Fruitless
Chapter Six: Work Becomes Pointless
Chapter Seven: Work Becomes Selfish
Chapter Eight: Work Reveals Our Idols

Let’s just go through my Keller-revealed problems (and the corresponding truths) one by one, shall we?

1. I’m human.

Tell me I can’t do everything, or I can’t do something as perfectly as I imagined or planned, and I can get cranky. Downright nasty, even.

I like to operate from a position of strength. I like to think I have a capacity both broad and deep enough to tackle multiple projects and pursuits, each with excellence. I want to read a book a week; wash and hang-dry cloth diapers; make every meal from scratch; create an eighth-grade poetry curriculum for home school; support and attend every church event; and play tennis without ever double-faulting.

But I have bought frozen pizzas (not even on sale), used disposable diapers (gasp!), and skipped Bible study mornings. I never did get around to planning that poetry class. And I always, always double-fault.

Have I let this make me feel a failure? I have, but I shouldn’t have.

In all our work, we will be able to envision far more than we accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us.

– Keller, page 90

Reality . . . check.

2. Difficult ≠ Wrong (and Easy ≠ Right).

When things get hard and the road bumpy, sometimes I wonder if I should’ve turned onto a different road.

Reality . . . check.

Just because you cannot realize your highest aspirations in work does not mean you have chosen wrongly, or are not called to your profession, or that you should spend your life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration. . . . You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation. (page 94)

The easy way is not always (or not even usually) the right way. I suspect the apostle Paul and those Old Testament prophets would agree.

3. My Work ≠ Me.

I have confused my work with my identity. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness by challenging His identity and trying to make Him believe If you can’t do this, you’re not You. The flip side of this kind of temptation: Prove yourself. If you want to prove who you really are, accomplish this (and that, and that).

Reality . . . check. Check. Check.

We either get our name—our defining essence, security, worth, and uniqueness—from what God has done for us (Revelation 2:17), or we make a name through what we can do for ourselves. (page 115)

4. I’ve had pride and forgotten grace.

Often, when I accomplish a task or fill a role successfully, I start to think I am my own sustenance and power.

Reality . . .

You worked with talents you did not earn; they were given to you. . . . Everything you have is a matter of grace. (page 124)

CHECK.

5. I’ve taken on tasks based on guilt.

If guilt is the extent of your motivation, you can be sure it will wear off before long. (page 125)

Enough said. Check.

6. Accepting God’s love and grace makes me more selfless.

I’ve said before that Every Good Endeavor boils down to selflessness. It’s my favorite theme in the book and pops up again and again. And Keller says that the way to be selfless is to receive God’s love and grace. At first this may seem counterintuitive, but it does make sense.

If you see Jesus . . . as a Savior doing these things [saving people through identification and mediation] for you personally, then you will see how valuable you are to him. . . . And ironically, when you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish. (page 127, emphasis mine)

This is God’s reality. This is my reality.

Check.

The Best Parenting Credential

For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Glynn Young leads us in discussing Part One: God’s Plan for Work.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

In last week’s book club discussion I said I would summarize Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor in one word: selflessness. I found selflessness again as I read Part One: God’s Plan for Work (chapters 1-4):

Work is one of the ways we make ourselves useful to others, rather than just living a life for ourselves.

Our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world.

God provides purpose for our work by calling us to serve the world.

Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.

… and, my favorite:

We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor.

– Keller, pages 38, 61, 65, 66, 67 (emphasis mine)

Besides selflessness, other concepts resonated as well. Keller mentions that “God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor” (page 36). That is, my work can tap into the God-created potential for cultivation.

This idea goes hand in hand with my “intrinsic need to be productive” (page 37)—or, to use the word I use more frequently, my need to be fruitful. Yet I’ve gotten so hung up on fruitfulness, desiring it to the point that it has become an idol. (Interestingly, Keller addresses a full chapter (the eighth) on idolatry. But that’s for next week’s discussion.)

All these ideas fit together in my work of parenting, don’t they? God purposely left His creation (my children) undeveloped to a certain degree, in order that His creation (me, the parent) may have the privilege and opportunity of being colaborers with Him (astounding as that is!) to cultivate the children into the people God wants them to grow into. And the purpose of our work is to serve others in love and selflessness (certainly required for a parent who seeks God).

We are to be gardeners who take an active stance toward their charge. They do not leave the land as it is. They rearrange it in order to make it most fruitful, to draw the potentialities for growth and development out of the soil. . . . And that is the pattern for all work. It is creative and assertive.

&ndash Keller, pages 58-59 (emphasis mine)

I like that. One way to work with God to selflessly serve others is to mine our God-given creativity.

But I got into trouble when I got to page 78: “The very best way to be sure you are serving God in your work is to be competent.” I read that, and everything fell apart. Me, a competent parent? I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more incompetent than in bringing up children!

I remember when I was twenty-four and dressed in my only suit, the same one I wore as I job-hunted from one Silicon Valley start-up to another. I had just survived most of an all-day interview complete with grilling technical questions from different groups. Hours later, my last interviewer sat on the other side of a polished conference-room table. Almost done.

Then, in that room with bright, white walls came The Worst Interview Question. “What makes you think you’re qualified for this position?” he asked.

What do I say to that?

“That’s your job to decide,” I answered, and he did decide. I did not get an offer from that company.

Lucky for me, midwives and obstetricians never ask the question “What makes you think you’re qualified to be a mother?” Because once I became one, and the more children I had, and the older they got, the more I thought that the parenting task is above me.

I get overwhelmed. Parenting is a gigantic task much larger than I imagined. Who am I to have spiritual oversight over these three boys? How many times have I felt inadequate as a parent? I feel unfit.

Whenever I feel this inadequacy, I turn to these Scriptures:

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.

. . . and my feeling is confirmed: I am unfit to be a mother.

Yet here I am, a mother; three undeniable evidences sit around our dinner table, drink five gallons of milk per week, and throw their dirty socks in the laundry basket. I am, in fact, a mother. This means that God has made me what I am not fit to be. Every time I try to understand that, I can’t, really. God gave me this job, even though I am underqualified. Counterintuitively, this realization that I am unfit to be a parent—strengthens me as a parent. My best parenting credential is God’s grace. “By the grace of God, I am what I am…”

. . . and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

(above quotes are from 1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

The parenting role is overwhelming, but I strive and try harder to be a good parent, even while recognizing that I am a parent only by God’s grace. My efforts and striving only follow in the wake His grace makes. Paradoxically and wonderfully, God’s Word which makes me understand that I am unfit to be a parent is the very same Word that gives me utmost confidence to be a parent.

Maybe feelings of inadequacy can be healthy. They actually give me confidence and better ability, for what is more enabling than God’s grace?

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

(2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

Tracing Grace

(For the villanelle poetry prompt at The High Calling. (My photos for the PhotoPlay are in this set on my flickr account.))

I didn’t think to seek God’s face,
unaware of my need to find
His all-sufficient grace.

Then in a solitary space
I thought I saw a spark, a kind
of light to seek God’s face.

All along He went in steady chase,
pursuing me, revealing to my mind
His all-sufficient grace.

Now in a calm intensity of pace
I walk at times in dimmer light, blind
to any vision but God’s face;

for in the almost-blindess, I can better taste
and savor overwhelming mercies that remind
me of His all-sufficient grace

Looking back (and forward) I can trace
His presence both before and behind.
And looking, I think I see God’s face;
I’m helpless but for His all-sufficient grace.

An Uncanny Combination (by Charles Sharman)

(The following is an excerpt from our Christmas letter describing a typical Sharman day, written by Charles Sharman. (Thanks, Gorgeous!))

It’s 8 p.m., and it’s time to prepare for bed. I read Byron The Two Towers while Derek and Titus shower. “What do you think Treebeard will do?” I ask. When I’m done, Byron begs for a few more pages, and I consent. Who could say no?

Derek and Titus return, and Byron and I head upstairs. I help Byron prepare for his bath while Monica reads White Fang to Derek and Titus. Jim Hall is about to murder Judge Scott, but White Fang jumps on him in the dark.

I get a little contemplative while Byron bathes and Monica reads. The uncanny combination of immense power and love attracts us to characters like Treebeard and White Fang. It’s the stuff for tales. Yet, we find it originates in our Lord, as the Psalmist says:

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise?
(Psalm 106:1-2)

My God can move the mountains; and he channels that power toward us in love: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

****

From the blog owner:

A Blessed and Worshipful Christmas to you!

May you know God’s peace,

and may his favor rest on you.

~Monica

(This week Ann Voskamp hosts a community of those who share about The Advent Practice of Preparation. Our year-round, non-holiday, daily lives are our preparation. Sometimes, in the established pattern of bedtime reading, God teaches us about Himself. Click on the Holy Experience badge below to read more community posts on Preparation!)

(Also linking with Bonnie Gray who encourages us to consider someone in the Christmas story. Because I’m thinking of power and love, and what one would be like without the other, I consider Herod who ordered all the baby boys killed (Matthew 2:7-8,13-18). Herod’s power was without love; God’s power is shown in love. Click on the FaithBarista badge below to read more community posts on Unwrapping Jesus: Which character in the Christmas story is speaking to you?)

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The Protection of Illness

I usually don’t drink enough water on a backpacking trip, so dehydration probably triggered the headache.

I tried the normal anti-migraine things to nip it in the bud—drink lots of water; eat protein; drink strong coffee quickly; lie down in the cool, dark basement. None of it worked.

Within hours, this thing had grown into the fiercest migraine I’d had in years—debilitating pain, violent nausea. I was reduced to the words: “Help me, God. Help me, God.” As hard as I could, I pressed hands to head and head to pillow to keep my brain from bursting out of my skull.

In the middle of the pounding, I remembered. God had taught me something in the Gospel of Mark, and I thanked Him that I could even think about it despite the vice clamped on the upper part of my brain.

Many sick or friends of the sick came to Jesus—flocked to Jesus—desperate for healing.

Others, Pharisees, came to Jesus wanting to kill Him.

I pictured these two kinds of people. On one hand, the sick. I imagined their ailments, perhaps lifelong, and the suffering they’ve endured. Doctor fees, degrading treatments, physical pain, emotional anguish. I could see why, when they heard about Jesus, they came running.

On the other hand, the Pharisees. They followed Him around and even invited Him to dinner to test Him, to trap Him, to find grounds to condemn Him. Watching Him especially on the Sabbath to see if He would heal that day, they cared more about the Sabbath (which is supposed to be for man) than they cared about man.

He [Jesus] said to the man with the withered hand, Get up and come forward! And He said to them [the Pharisees], Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill? But they kept silent.

After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, Stretch out your hand. And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
(Mark 3:3-6)

To actually want to destroy Jesus for healing on the Sabbath! Apparently, miraculous healings don’t astound everyone.

As I pictured these Pharisees, their hunting hatred, and the scornful looks on their faces, I realized . . .

None of these guys are sick. They’re all healthy—physically healthy—otherwise they would have cared more about Jesus’ healing than the fact that He did it on the Sabbath.

Would physical illness have changed their attitude?

Many who were sick came to be healed; others who were healthy came to kill. Would sickness have protected the Pharisees from being—well, pharisaical?

When I am sick, could it be a protection?

I’ve never had pride and a migraine at the same time. When I’m hurting, I’m not hating. Does God allow my illnesses or hard circumstances so that I might have a soft heart toward Him?

This is what I remembered that Saturday evening as I half wished I could cut off the throbbing part of my head: the pain I experience now is protective. In this pain, I am not a Pharisee. In this sickness, God brings me to healthy humility. Remembering my lessons from the Gospel of Mark, I held my head and thanked God.

Then I took an ibuprofen.

(This Thursday Bonnie Gray invites: Share a moment you felt close to God recently. Click on the FaithBarista badge below to read more posts on closeness with God!)

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Straight A’s to Hawaii

Her name was Magdalena Christina, but she went by Chris. I spent a lot of time with Chris during 4th through 6th grades. She lived with her grandparents on Moneta Avenue, three blocks away from me. I really liked Chris’s grandparents. Mrs. Gonzalez was the only one I knew who called Chris “Lena” (short for “Magdalena”). It sounded so pretty in her singsong Mexican tones. Once, I flounced in their door like it was my own home. Chris said, “Hi, Grandma!”

Flippantly, I also called out, “Hi, Grandma!”

She sternly but caringly replied, “Don’t you think it would be more polite to call me ‘Mrs. Gonzalez,’ Monica?” The way she said “Monica” was a song, too. I respected her more, starting that day.

Chris’s grades were generally A’s, B’s, and C’s. Once, walking to Chris’s house on a report card day, Chris made some suggestions to me. She knew I had gotten straight A’s again. Mrs. Gonzalez also knew what my grades tended to be. “If Grandma thought you had worse grades this time, she wouldn’t be as mad at me for what my report card looks like.”

I took the hint.

We walked in the house. “Hi, Grandma,” said Chris.

“Hi, Mrs. Gonzalez,” I greeted.

Chris showed her grandma the report card. I don’t remember that conversation. Then Mrs. Gonzalez said to me, “What did you get, Monica?”

I did not hesitate. “Some B’s, a couple of C’s,” I said, lying.

If satisfaction had an appearance, it looked like Chris at that moment. If disappointment had an appearance and a sound, it looked and sounded like Mrs. Gonzalez. “I’m disappointed in you, Monica.” She went on to tell me how important it was to keep up my grades, how I shouldn’t have let them drop so much. The worst part was, she never suspected that I was lying. She trusted me.

I remembered this story wondering if it had anything to do with perfectionism. Does it?

Chris told me that, if she ever got straight A’s, her grandparents would send her on a Hawaii trip. When I got straight A’s, I got a dollar for every A. (Something happened in junior high, when Chris and I no longer went to the same school. Her grades suddenly shot up. She did eventually get straight A’s and became valedictorian of that school.)

A dollar for every A. That didn’t even make ten bucks. With Hawaii on my mind, I felt that in my house, good grades were cheap. Maybe because they were considered a given. Straight A’s—it’s just what we normally expect.

Yes, I think this is a story of perfectionism and what it can do. Unhealthy perfectionism can cheapen, undermine, and ignore progress. Bad perfectionism snuffs out encouragement.

Now I teach home school, having just finished our school year. The boys are ahead in most subjects. When I grade Derek’s math assignments and the total is below 90%, I have found myself getting tense—even disappointed. I sigh and mutter things under my breath, like:

“I can’t believe it.”
What is going on here?”
“He made that same mistake! Again?

I’m pretty sure that’s not a good way to raise a child or be his teacher.

In my own heart, perfectionism and grace don’t tend to be companions. But I do believe there is a good, healthy kind of perfectionism. I do believe in striving for the highest, but often forget the necessity of grace.

In my life, I want perfectionism and grace to be twins, holding hands as they help one another and journey together.

So I ask for grace. God, help me! Help me to motivate myself and my children—to call them higher, for You always want growth toward Christlikeness—without being deficient in grace. Show me how You do it, Lord, for You do bring me above where I am, yet show me such unending grace wherever I am.

This Thursday Bonnie Gray hosts a community of those who share about perfectionism. Click on the FaithBarista badge below to read more posts on perfectionism!

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