November 27, 2009

adventures in pen [jenna]

The flow of thought pauses, changes, skips back and forth between ideas, hesitant to settle on one for fear it will be anything less than the right one. The pen lifts, its scratching silent. The paper waits at ease.

The pen touches the paper again. Dim in the twilight, words take their place in rows across the page. Occasionally one bears a line drawn through it; occasionally a cluster of tiny words gathers outside of the main rows and marks its insertion with a small arrow.

The words may be secrets folded into the private sheets of a journal; they may form the short and jagged lines of a poem; they may carry the inventions of another world's history or commentary on the wiles and ways of our own. They may flow freely and naturally down the paper, as if it took no effort to place them; they may show the sharp strikes and dark substitutions of the violence wherewith they were extracted from the air.

Journal pages stay hidden, covers tightly closed and buried underneath the printed and bound words of others. The ideas reject revelation. A journal may prove treacherous, as it will open its secrets to any who take it up and read, but if carefully kept it may be a safe deposit for such things.

The lines and stanzas of poetry keep a rhythm of their own; long and short, long and short again. Perhaps those lines are marked over with tiny letters describing the melody and chords which give the cubing dimension to a song. A few words, lain across the top of the page, form the title. The paper holds its silence. The song always awaits a voice.

Invention of history may take the short form of only a few paragraphs or it may tell its tale through tens or hundreds or thousands of pages. It may take its writer in directions unintended or--more rarely--walk the path originally set before it; it may tell itself easily or its facts may have to be wrangled from the most awkward, difficult-to-reach corners of imagination. Its many words may provide understanding of those who have not walked the earth but could have, or they may go the way of Genesis and talk of worlds yet unknown to man--lands that foster impossible powers and sentient beings of strange, unusual description.

In the commentary upon this earth and its populace is often found the greatest weariness, the most haunting failures of transcendence. The pen may grow heavy, the pages burdensome, with the pressure of the words. A paragraph here, a sentence there, holds a thought twisted upwards, a sweet brief splendor of joy and hope.

Whatever else the words do, they search for magic--the magic to capture and transmit something more than mere fact. They search for the sense of melody, the atmosphere of the fairy world, though drawn in simple scrawls of black on white.

Again the pen lifts. The paper flips, and on its uneven and dented reverse, the pen touches again. Words take their place in rows across the page.

...continue reading...

"Ah, Holy Jesus," Rewritten as Emily Dickens [guest]

God's dear son – Jesus – have you so – offended -
As Man – so judgingly – hatefully pretended?
People: all mocking, People: rejecting, you: in great anguish.

Whence came this Anguish? And who was the Guilty?
I – treasonous Wretch – you are dying for Me.
Yes, it was I denied – crucified – you on Calvary, the shepherd.

From this good shepherd who for sheep was offered
the son who suffered for the slave who sinnéd
breathes all Forgiveness, Though I may not want and do reject this gift.

Your gift to Me was birth and sorrow and death:
Suffering, sorrowing, perishing – bearing - - -
- - - To save me - pouring out a off'ring of painful love and dying.

I: all undeserving, You: love unswerving
I can never pay You for your great suff'ring
I do – implore – You – now I pray to You – cast on me your pity


Andrew Smith is a home-schooled high school senior. He is fascinated by early medieval England, baseball history, the Spanish language, Baroque music, and backpacking in the mountains. Writing is an occasional outlet for thoughts.

...continue reading...

November 24, 2009

Control [tony]

Everyday we deal with decisions of right and wrong
Choice is the key
Do we actually choose to listen to what’s right?
Not even what's right, but what God thinks
Because he knows what is right
So what do we choose?
What we think is best?
Why not? After all, we are in control of our life, right?
Because if that’s true
We wouldn’t ever live in truth
So why would any one want to live a lie?
Because it's safe, and the same
People don’t like change
I know I don’t, do you?
You can choose to say one thing
And feel another
So when are we going to trust in him
And stop trying to be in control
So give yourself to him
We are not in control

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The Old Purple Couch [vanessa]

It's 5:36 AM. I am lying on an over-sized purple couch that has been faded by years of overnight guests, afternoon teas, hours of “four on a couch”, tear stained conversations, random parties, and countless Blockbuster nights. The city lights of an unfamiliar neighborhood stream in through the cracks in the mini blinds. I can already hear the tread of tires gripping the pavement. As my mind begins to wake up, I remember where I am. Yet, I want the familiarity that this purple couch has to offer, so I snuggle deeply under the covers and allow the cushions to engulf me in the memories of a not-so-distant past that has already begun to feel like a dream.

This purple couch was not always in this unfamiliar place. It once belonged to Leah, a dear friend and roommate. She acquired the couch as payment for a baby-sitting job. It traveled with her through at least two apartment moves and served as the inspiration for our small diving (dinner+living) room. As I lay here, I remember watching Leah sit on the couch eating a large chocolate cupcake with white icing from the Hershey bakery that I bought her for her birthday. Leah loves cupcakes.

After graduation, Leah moved to Germany. Maureen, my best friend and next roommate, decided to purchase the couch with me. Even now, there are few symbols that so clearly describe the nature of our friendship than this couch (which she still considers me half owner of). I was always the first one to wake up in the morning. While Maureen and Abby would slumber in the bedroom we shared, I looked forward to my morning ritual of coffee, reading and pondering.

As I pour the black nectar into a colorful mug, the aroma fills my nostrils, inviting me to begin my day. I can hear the clacking of the horse hooves on the street below pulling carriages to be ridden by urban sightseers. I look out our large picture window and once again ponder the paradox of my neighborhood. I look to the right and I see high-rise condos with rooftop pools and in-house gyms where the urban elite give a spare key to the dog walker who comes twice a day. A single young urban professional comes home from work carrying reusable Whole Foods bags to be greeted by a doorman whose entire existence is to keep unwanted guests out and push the elevator buttons.

As he rides the elevator up, he wonders if any of the residents of this building have first names. I look to the left and I see the high-rise housing projects that display more boards than window panes. There are dangling chains where swings used to exist on the graffiti covered playground that has become the headquarters for the neighborhood gang. As I watch a women carrying a baby, there is a two-year old walking next to her clinging to his coveted bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and a Coke from the corner store. I picture her walking up the eleven flights of stairs saturated with the smell of urine. The elevator is broken. There is no one wants to visit her and even if they do, who is left to keep out?
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a blaring alarm clock. Time to prepare for the day...

I reluctantly rise from the purple couch, carrying all of the memories of what once was and what is. I leave the purple couch to shower and prepare for the morning commute with Maureen. It always takes at least half an hour to get anywhere. We drive through the city streets and the closer we get to downtown, the more familiar everything feels. I get out of the car and enjoy a meandering walk to my favorite coffee shop. As I walk down the streets lined with towering buildings, hidden gardens, and the nations my mind is flooded with thoughts of how little things have changed. A Garmin store has been built next door to Nike Town.

I walk past a new cafe that looks like it's worth trying. Giordano's is still on the corner of Rush, a Starbucks is open on every block, a group of men living at the YMCA solicit me for some change, yellow cabs honk loudly at jay walkers. The people have different faces, but they are all part of the same system. Everyone has their place...defined by gait, dress, paper-lined coffee cups, chiseled biceps, designer laptop bags, and pedicured toes. It makes me wonder how much I've bought into this system. Isn't this the goal? I attempt to look into the eyes of the multitudes who I pass on the sidewalk, hoping to get a small glimpse into their souls. What aching and pain are covered by images of neat and tidy purchased perfection? If I invited one of these passers by to have an extra small non-fat decaf latte with a side of organic celery and brown rice crackers on the purple couch, what would their story reveal? Would they even accept the invitation? Perhaps it would inconveniently cut into their perfectly timed and organized schedule that keeps them safe...from life.

But, this isn't the only system that exists. I think back to the pavement jungle that the city builders have attempted to destroy, hide, and relocate. Though this system has a different face and a different set of rules, it's not so different at it's core. Once we live at an extreme, regardless of which end, we end up living very similar lives, even though we'd like to think they are light years apart. Instead of shopping sprees, drugs are substituted. Instead of therapists, gangs extend invitations. Instead of fathers absent due to work, fathers are simply absent. There is a silent resignation of hope present that communicates that this is it, that life will never be anything more than what it is right now. This live for the moment mentality kills dreams. But, why dream anyway...dreams are only painful fantasies. I know that if I invited the lonely women with the two kids to have take-out with me on the purple couch, she would come. I wonder if her life would reveal a story so dramatically different from my last guest? Probably not.

There is a deeply rooted poverty that cuts across all outward expressions – or lack thereof – of what has been defined by the systems we fall into. As I sit on the purple couch once again I realize that I am both of these people. I perpetuate both of these systems. Their lives are my life and in the end, we really aren't so different. All this I've only learned after getting up and leaving the purple couch and going to unfamiliar places that reveal tantamount measures of fear and insecurity. I often ache for what is comfortable and familiar, like the faithful purple couch. But...if I never leave the comfort of the purple couch, I will be left experience the poverty that grips my life and leads me to believe that the purple couch is the only one that exists and if I get up and leave it I will lose everything.

I'm beginning to think it's worth it...

...continue reading...

November 19, 2009

While Reading The Dark Knight of the Soul, by Gerard G. May, M.D. [guest]

“The soul lets go of everything, daughter, so that it may remain more completely in me. The soul itself no longer lives, but I.”

I stilled myself.

There I was.

Staggering. Exhausted. Sweating. Tense. Muscles aching. Barely alive.

I looked in my eyes. I looked at myself. I saw myself. Objectively. Sad. The bricks. So heavy. Cutting. Gouging my skin, blood gushing. Me – oblivious. Moving at a snail’s pace. Determined for some unknown, irrelevant destination.

Then I felt it.

HEAVY despair. Exhaust. Piling the bricks harder and harder on myself. Weight. Wanting to throw them off. Unable to do so. My back. Stuck. Panged.

And my own will. No No Press them harder. I can’t let go. This is how it has to be. Harder. Harder. More weight. I need it.

Why? Why??? I asked myself. But I really didn’t know. I couldn’t let go.

Then I begged Jesus – reason with her, I said about myself. There He was. I wanted to yank the bricks off. Straighten my back. I wanted to jerk my head up and look Him straight in the eye but I couldn’t. He held my hand. I held it close.

It’s a process.

He can’t just free me. I didn’t even want or know how to be free. He bent down mimicking my hunch back position. He looked in my eyes. He was next to me. He saw me. But I couldn’t see him. The exhaustion. The dizziness. The weight. blurred my eyes. I could only see…blur.

I didn’t need to see. Trying to only exhausted me more. Instead He just held my hand. Pulled it close. And walked with me at that snail’s pace to where ever it was that I was so determined to get to. And slowly, slowly as we walked together, I saw His hand. My face saw His face. My back began to straighten like His and the blocks fell from my back as a result of the slow but sure motion.

Soon I was upright like Him. Looking in His eyes. The more I looked at Him, the more the weights dropped to the ground. And there we stood. Perfect embrace. He held me close and cradled my head. Never so precious have I been coddled. Comforting and making whole. In Him I became whole.

He is everything.

When you feel the weight of the world. When you need it. You can’t even part with it. Don’t worry about looking. Just hold that hand. He will get you through.

“Whatever form it takes, the movement of the soul and God is always finding its way toward freedom.”

“Regardless of when and how it happens, the dark night of the soul is the transition from bondage to freedom in prayer and in every other aspect of life.”

“In the liberation of the night, we are freed from having to figure things out, and we find delight in knowing what we do not know.”


Steffeny Steiner was born in Hollywood, CA. She is a lover of adventures and enjoys documenting her travels--whether to the grocery store, another country, or inside her own heart. Steffeny also has love for coffee, community, and Africa. She loves to hear people’s stories because they excite, heal, and inspire. In Stef’s opinion, this is what life is about. She’ll be sharing some of her stories as a guest contributor and is pretty stoked to hear from you as well.

...continue reading...

Nostalgia [teddi]

I drove to that same building on a brisk fall evening. The mountains were glorious, standing high and proud against a sun-set sky. Oranges and reds decorated the grounds and underneath my feet were the crunching sounds of weak leaves. The air was clean and it was so quiet you could hear that strange sound that is really no sound at all; the ringing of silence. Every now and then, you could hear the call of geese. They sounded almost desperate, screeching and gasping. I swear, it's the saddest sound in the world.

Staring at that building I felt as Wordsworth must have when he wrote Tintern Abbey. It had been a “long and painful absence.” Yet I returned. I stood there, staring, with my hands in my jacket. A chill came over me as I remembered everything. Every moment of pleasure and sorrow. Every moment of feast and famine. The images were clear and vivid in my head; the feelings strong and rich in my heart. Loss would so easily wish for me to forget yet I couldn't. It was all very real.

When we sat on mexican blankets on the concrete, staring up at the stars. When we smoked cigars out the car window, driving down country roads with the windows down. When we took walks through the woods and shrieked at every mysterious sound. When we sat in summer grass and prayed for hurting friends. When we made a campfire and watched the flames dance as we warmed our feet and hands. When we sat on sanctuary floors with a sense of both reverence and terror. When we were simply together. Before that, before this, before life’s turbulent changing tides.

I hold those times close to me now. They are both my chapped soul and also the only balm that can soothe it. I remember always, I remember all; not because it was perfect, but simply because it was.

It was what it was.

It just was.

It was meaningful. It was worthwhile. It was familiar. It was habitual yet it became more. It became a family. A sense of belonging.

I entertain these thoughts but for a few minutes before I am filled with a strange mixture of bitterness and thankfulness. I walk back to my car and the chill bites my hands. I hear the geese once again, their call breaking the silence of the country. I watch them wander through the grasses, stare at me for but a moment and then take flight. It is time for them to depart. They are heading southward. They are off to find their new home.

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November 17, 2009

Part III: Prophecy and Infantry [barry]

"Is it true that I have seen all these things? That they are real incidents in my life's history? Did I see those brave and noble countrymen of mine laid low in death and weltering in their blood? Did I see our country laid waste and in ruins? Did I see soldiers marching, the earth trembling and jarring beneath their measured tread? Did I see the ruins of smouldering cities and deserted homes? Did I see my comrades buried and see the violet and wild flowers bloom over their graves? Did I see the flag of my country, that I had followed so long, furled to be no more unfurled forever? Surely they are but the vagaries of mine own imagination. Surely my fancies are running wild tonight.

"But, hush! I now hear the approach of battle. That low, rumbling sound in the west is the roar of cannon in the distance. That rushing sound is the tread of soldiers. That quick, lurid glare is the flash that precedes the cannon's roar. And listen! That loud report that makes the earth tremble and jar and sway, is but the bursting of a shell, as it screams through the dark, tempestuous night. That black, ebon cloud, where the lurid lightning flickers and flares, that is rolling through the heavens, is the smoke of battle . . . Listen! The soldiers are charging now."

- Private Sam Watkins, 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment

The paperwork has been submitted. The suicidal freefall has concluded. The death has occurred. The discharge has been remitted; the epitaph delivered ("Honorable," it reads). I do not have much to say, for the dead do not speak eloquently.

Fortunately, my Father always does.

"You know you are still a soldier, right?" he inquired (more so exhorted), with these simple words of prophecy presaging a life that lies ahead – not unlike those simple words of prophecy that previously portended the death that just occurred.

Because the words have been spoken (and I know that this is how my Father creates), I know that this process of life after death has already begun. Indeed, even in those previous words of death, my Father began this course of new life. So it seems that perhaps this death was not really death at all; however, I am too new to have comprehension.

Like a cognitive infant, I am able to perceive and evaluate the world and experiences around me, but wholly incapable of fully understanding or adequately communicating what is being felt.

Like the dry remains of Ezekiel's Army – those nameless, desiccated soldiers – I am simply waiting for my Father's words to permeate my bones and bring me back to life.

I will miss the grip of a rifle, the heat and weight of body armor, the pungent fumes of tank exhaust and cordite, and the adrenaline and sweat that gives it all a unique and precious aroma. I will miss the respect of professional leaders, the esteem of my countrymen, and the love that I cannot help but feel for my soldiers who looked to me for leadership and answers and action. I will miss the feel of the uniform, the way those fabrics magically improve posture and increase height, and the knowledge of every step and every action that led to the vibrant, clashing colors and gleaming shine of ornaments on my chest. I will miss the comfortable jargon, the unfettered but absolutely pure complaining of the grunts and pogues, and the only brotherhood to which I have ever belonged. I will miss free airline baggage service, retail discounts, and not having to ever show my driver's license because I have a better form of identification. My life will be nothing like it was, and I will dearly mourn it. Indeed, I already profoundly miss these things. I already mourn.

But life has been spoken, and life awaits. I will dwell on this death, but only to proclaim that it is gain; that the abundance of what waits for me as a soldier in my Father's army will far surpass these vagaries of mine own imagination.

But, hush! I now hear the approach of battle. Listen! I hear the voice of my Father. The muscles and sinews are reforming on my bones. I am still a soldier, and I trust that when the time comes, my hands will remember what it means to grip a weapon and my feet will recall how to be steady in the battle. I cannot wait for that time, but I have no idea what that fight will look like. I must now be an infant and once again receive life and health and training from my Father, the King of Battle. That is, after all, what it means to be in the infantry.

...continue reading...

Your Heart Is a Midden [joshua]

Pace around the field
Waist to waist in silence
Watch the storm black the sky

You've razed the harbor
Of pretense from my breast
You're no mystery to me now

Run - your soul crushed callous
The wounds you don't nurse
I leave my flowers funeral haze
And put my hope in the earth

Turn my head away
The screen oh father
There's nothing to say
Why drink it any further
Years of empty promise
To the children it can't ignore


I see you jet away again
Another lost chance to wave
The heart is a midden
I see you jet away again
Let me see you jet away again

Capture all the markers
From all the graveyard stops
The trespasses of a life gone by
Hitchhiked on feelings, pictures

You love the politics of preservation
Save the landfill you say
Your heart is a midden

I see you jet away again
I see you stoop to kiss her
I see you jet away again
Your heart is a midden

...continue reading...

November 12, 2009

Standing in the Delta [nean]

What God has joined
in Her infinite wisdom
of the who and the what
we all need

Let no man think
he's smart enough
or arrogant enough
or capable enough
to try to pull apart.

As the drops of east
dilute with west
two rivers truly are one

As one body is made
of thousands of parts
this river is filled from streams.

Where this water joins
to become part of the whole
and flows to fill that which was
it becomes one with all
that have flowed here before
keeping some of what
others have lost

And here we will fail
if we try to remove it

For good or bad~
polluted or not~
this stream is now part
of our river

And all little streams
moving off on their own
become tributaries of that which was

For these new streams we've made
are nothing like the old ~
forever changed
into something new

They can never be
anything less
than the sum of it's parts
taking pieces of me
leaving pieces of you
to forever be drowned
in this place where we've joined

...continue reading...

November 10, 2009

Sally O'Reilly [amanda]

University Christian Living Covenant Contract Broken Friday, August 28, 10 p.m.

Sally O’Reilly rooms with her best friend. They eat five meals together a week, take one class together on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Sally’s best-friend-roommate has a boyfriend. Sally does not. On Friday nights, Sally, her best-friend-roommate and her boyfriend go to a house on Little Cricket Drive for a party. Always the same house: Faded red vinyl along the outside, a cracked cement porch, a single potted plant sitting in pale, crumbly dirt. Twenty or thirty people come to the house. They meander and laugh through the cramped living room, the steep, narrow staircase, the linoleum kitchen. Sally always sits on the rickety front porch swing with David. This is David’s house. Together, Sally and David smoke a pack of Swisher Sweets, and watch the pearl gray plumes of smoke rise in the night air, disappearing somewhere beneath the purple-ish clouds overhead.

“Can you blow smoke rings?” Sally asks David.

He glances at her, and then at the cigar between his fingers. David fits the cigar between his lips, drags, and throws his head back, cheeks like cherubim, rounded, with smoke. He constricts his lips tightly, into an O, and puffs out carefully, contracting his lips like a goldfish. Sally sees a hazy circle ascend above him, a halo, and it disappears before David has a chance to see it. Sally drags on her cigarillo and exhales through her nostrils.

“You did it,” she says.

The swing sways slightly, far past curfew.

Living in the Girl Dorm

Sally O’Reilly lives in a girl dorm. Many girls live in the girl dorm along with Sally and her roommate. Tall girls and short girls, fat girls and skinny girls, girls in between. Sally knows all different kinds of girls in the girl dorm. When Sally wakes up in the morning, she rolls out of bed, grabs a towel and toiletry caddy, and goes to the bathroom. There are girls brushing their teeth above the sinks. They smile at Sally, the white foam bubbling around their lips and teeth like a pack of rabid coons, their eyes screwing up into crescents. Sally smiles faintly back.

“This,” she thinks, “is very odd…”

She sees the coagulated stripes on Mary Johnson’s wrists. But it was Mary Johnson who smiled the broadest at Sally O’Reilly this morning. It is Mary Johnson who makes ham and cheese sandwiches every Monday, Wednesday, Friday at lunch, who wears long sleeves in early September, who sits in her closet and cries in the afternoons when her classes are over. It is Mary Johnson whom all the guys ask out. Sally O’Reilly knows this because she can hear Mary Johnson crying through the plaster walls, those thin, choked sobs that come to a shuddering stop when the phone rings. Mary Johnson gulps in air for a few seconds. Then Sally O’Reilly hears her answer the phone in a voice that sounds something like excitement, like joy.

“Friday night sounds good,” Mary Johnson says.

It is all very odd.

Sending Mixed Signals

Sally’s friend, David, sends her a wild flower through the school mail. Sally knows that David likes her, because he buys them Swisher Sweets every Friday night. But Sally doesn’t think she likes David. He smokes Swisher Sweets, and Sally doesn’t want to date a guy who smokes, or who drinks Captain Morgan’s. She likes the idea of dating a youth ministry major, or a chaplain. But she likes to smoke. This Friday night, Sally will go to David’s house, and she will not say anything about the flower. She will sit on the front porch swing, and dream of a guy who asks her to pray with him, who writes theology articles for the school newspaper, who talks with Bible professors about God. Sally will think about this for a long time, and she will smoke five of David’s Swisher Sweets. One after another, until she can’t hold the tobacco stump between her fingers without getting burned. David will ask her, “What are you thinking about, Sally?” And Sally O’Reilly will look into the sky, eyebrows pressed together and reply, “…About why pears taste grainy.” David will smile, laugh, and ask her what she means. Sally O’Reilly will smile, and laugh, and tell him something off the top of her head. And David will think she is very charming.

Koine Greek

It is very quiet in the classroom. And the professor, Professor Jarrad, has not arrived yet. Sally O’Reilly is afraid. She is the only girl, sitting in a classroom with twenty-two guys, and she is afraid that they will think that she is a Pastoral Ministry major, too. That she is a revolutionary. A woman who will graduate and move to some distant state to pastor a small church. She will cut her long, blonde hair short and let the highlights grow out several inches, parted down the middle, to exemplify the virtues of a celibate monkish hermitage for the congregation. Sally O’Reilly will stand up at the pulpit wearing thick glasses without prescription lenses, throw her arms to either side, and exclaim, “Beauty is fleeting, ladies, might as well beat ‘em to the punch!” The congregation will cheer. A white- steepled congregation of high school and college girls. They will love Sally O’Reilly’s example and will go to distant universities and never marry, and the population of the neighborhoods around Sally O’Reilly’s church will plummet into a dusty, tumbleweed ghost town. She will spend her Saturday nights pondering the dates she never went on in college. She will ponder this, and she will not revise Sunday’s sermon. She will forget how to wear makeup. She will go to the Jubilee Supermarket, whore-red lipstick caked across her lips, and try to flirt with a cashier named Harold. He will be fourteen years older than her.

This idea raises goosebumps on Sally O’Reilly’s arms. She wants to throw her chair back and yell, “I believe in mutual submission of the spouses!” But she does not do this. Professor Jarrad walks in and thumps his Greek Grammar text onto the lecture stand. The room quiets immediately. And while he passes out syllabi, row by row, Sally’s palms sweat and she peers down at her left ring finger – a little column of flesh and bone and nerves, naked.

Best Friend Number Two

Sally O’Reilly’s best friend that she made at orientation is Martina Hesbitt. Martina Hesbitt fell in love with Steve McQueen at age nine; she owns each of his movies and a glossy, signed photograph that she framed and nailed into her dorm room wall, though she knows she will be fined for the damages at the end of the semester. Martina Hesbitt lives in Sally’s hall.

She eats black olives out of the jar with a plastic fork while exegeting 1 John for Hermeneutics class. Sally O’Reilly comes into her room while she is eating black olives. Martina Hesbitt happily slams her textbook shut and turns in her chair to talk with Sally O’Reilly. She has something to tell her.

Martina Hesbitt has a crush on Nick Clairy.

“I think we’d be real good together,” she says, her teeth scrape the fork leaving her mouth, jaw crushing a black olive into mush.

Sally O’Reilly does not have a boyfriend. She listens to the sound of Martina’s voice and wonders if it is prettier than hers. It is. Sally looks at Martina’s complexion. It is very clear. Sally looks at Martina’s mascara-ed eyelashes, the way they clump together, and she feels much better.

Facebook Status

Sally Michelle O’Reilly: is going to wear heels, dang it.


Sally O’Reilly plans to paint her toenails. Either flamingo pink or cobalt blue. Sally is worried, however, that she will get nail polish on her jeans, so she changes into a pair of white cotton shorts. But, when Sally O’Reilly looks into the mirror she says, “Mother of pearl!” and for the next five minutes, she presses the flesh on her thighs together in her hands, watching the smooth flesh dimple. Sally O’Reilly looks in the mirror and recites every synonym for fat that she can think of: blubber, cellulite, lard, flab, lipid, adipose tissue. But, then, Sally O’Reilly remembers what her mother told her. Her mother, who gave birth to five children. “The last one just kinda slipped out,” her mother had said. So Sally grins at her thighs in the mirror, and exclaims, “These are child-bearing hips!” and she punches the air with her fist. “Let’s show those free weight boys what a real woman looks like!” And so Sally O’Reilly throws open her sock drawer and snaps a pair of white ankle socks on over her unpainted toenails, laces up her sneakers, and goes to the gym, head held high, a smirk on her face.

Sally O’Reilly Injures Herself at the Gym

Sally walks into the free weights room. Seventeen, bulging-armed, sweat-glistening guys stand or sit inside, huffing as they strain large black barbells up and down. Sally picks up two 10 lb. dumbbells, and does eight reps. Then another. Her heart is pounding. Then, she hoists the weights above her head, and her right shoulder comes out of its socket. The humerus separates from the scapula at the glenohumeral joint. The pain feels like her arm came off: There is no right arm anymore: You will have to make do, Sally O’Reilly. She falls to her knees, mouth gaping, breath caught in her throat. The eyes of the guys around her widen, barbells clang onto stands. Sally wrenches her arm upwards, instinctively, and hears the muffled sound of a snap – feels her throbbing limb maneuver into its socket. The humerus joins with the scapula at the glenohumeral joint. You have an arm, Sally O’Reilly. She sits on the ground, a crowd of guys around her. Sally bites her lip so that she will not cry.

After a Phone Call, Sally O’Reilly Drove Six Hours Home on Thursday, October 29
Sally O’Reilly is walking down the sanctuary’s center aisle at her grandmother’s funeral dressed in a coffee-black pencil skirt, shirt, pumps, black slip underneath her pencil skirt. The slip rides up Sally’s thighs as she walks next to her mother. It rides up as she sits down. A long inverted crater across her thighs. Sally squirms and shifts in her chair to coax the black slip down, but she can’t.

The doors at the back of the sanctuary open. Sally knows her grandmother is in that ash-wood casket coming down the aisle. It looks like a fat bar of toffee, and the six straight-lipped pallbearers like ice cream popsicles with chocolate shells, cracked down the middle, vanilla ice cream dripping on their chests.

Sally wants to reach up her skirt and yank her slip down. She wonders if anyone will notice. She peers around the audience, her hand, poised, on the edge of her skirt. Sally sees Aunt Christine across the aisle, her hair tied up on top of her head in a loose bun, the swirls of brown hair like chocolate frosting. She holds a tissue against her face to catch the drops of Sprite soda leaking from her eyes.

“Poor Aunt Christine,” Sally O’Reilly whispers.

The pallbearers lay grandma’s casket on the stage, and solemnly edge away.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Sally walks into the lounge where Martina Hesbitt lies on the couch, her ankles entwined, left arm lying over her stomach, in her long-sleeved pajamas. The ghostly light of the television reflects on her face. Her eyes are glassy, glinting rectangles of bright, gray light. She does not notice Sally walk in until Sally asks, “What’re you watching?”

Martina Hesbitt looks up at her and shouts, “I am NOT a Pollock!”

Sally O’Reilly Text Messages Her Cousin, Elisha

Message Sent:
wearing jeans u bought me 4 my brthdy

Message Reply:
then prpare 2 get hit on

Sally O’Reilly Cannot Write a Poem

Sally crouches down on the balls of her feet, her shoulders leaning back against the brick building – the back wall of her dorm. It is eleven minutes before curfew. Sally clamps the leafy end of a cigarillo between her lips. The flame in her dollar-store lighter flickers in the slight breeze. The tobacco tip alights, and Sally slips the lighter into her jacket pocket calmly, relieved. She drags, savors the slight Irish Crème flavor in the hollow of her mouth and nasal cavities before sighing the gray fumes into the late night air. Sally recites The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. “And looked down one as far as I could, to where it bent in the undergrowth,” she murmurs, watching the smoke tumble out of her mouth with every syllable. Sally tips her head up, and exhales. The thick stream jettisons into the air like a steam engine on the Thames, like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Sally tips her head against the brick, and recites, “And both that morning equally lay, in leaves no step had trodden black…” The end. Sally O’Reilly flicks the tobacco stump into the bushes. She has forgotten the rest.

About a Prof

Sally does not turn the music up. Her fingers draw back from the keyboard and she tilts her head towards the thin plaster wall.

“Isn’t it weird?” asks a girl in a low voice.

“Are you sure he really meant it?” asks Martina Hesbitt.

“Read it again,” she says.

Sally O’Reilly hears papers shuffling. They must be sitting on Martina Hesbitt’s sofa because it is pushed up against the wall. A few moments pass. Sally’s conscience says she should keep typing her paper for English Comp, but she does not because Martina starts talking again.

“What a douche!” she exclaims. “What a creeper-douche!”

Sally knows that Martina is combing her fingers through her hair because they are best friends, and because Martina combs her hair with her fingers when she is upset.

“Show it to Student Services,” Martina says, “then he’ll get axed, the horny goat.”

Sally hears a metal spring creak in the sofa. She places her hands on the keyboard and looks at an unfinished sentence, the cursor blinking impatiently.


Sally O’Reilly watches Martina Hesbitt through the kitchen window on the second floor of their hall. Martina walks outside to her ’89 Buick and unlocks the trunk. The horizontal door pops open and she looks either way over her shoulder at the maple trees and the few cars sitting in the parking lot. She rummages through vinyl bags and cardboard boxes until she finds the hunting knife her father gave her and stuffs it, handle up, into her jean’s pocket. Martina Hesbitt walks to the professor’s parking lot. She finds his car, a 2005 black Hyundai Tiburon. She knows that this is his car because of the license plate: MarcM(space)5. She looks over her shoulder, to the right and to the left, again. Then Martina Hesbitt pulls the knife out of her pocket and clips off the scabbard. She starts with the front left tire. She inhales, exhales, quickly and robustly, and swings her arm at the tire, feels the knife meet rubber, hears the sharp pop, and watches the tire sag to the ground as she drags out her knife. She does the same to the front right tire, and then the back two.

She stands back, chest heaving, perspiration glistening on her upper lip, and looks at the car. Tires lay like melted licorice around the chrome hub caps. She pulls her eyebrows together. Something is missing. Martina fits the blade of the knife in her hand, sharp edge away from her palm, and approaches the car. She scrawls the letters B-I-T-C-H onto the driver-side door. She looks at the car again. Martina Hesbitt grins, shrugs, and walks away.

Salad Bar

Sally O’Reilly stands in one of the lines at the salad bar. She is waiting for the shredded carrots. The shredded carrots will be here in a little while. Sally draws a sigh and looks up from the empty bowl. The guy standing across the salad bar from her is spooning cherry tomatoes onto a bed of lettuce, raisins, and banana bell peppers. Sally sees a girl stand in behind him, where he cannot see her. This girl is standing very close to the guy ahead of her. This girl’s eyes shutter close. She leans in to just above his shoulder, and sniffs. Her mouth perks with the shadow of a smile, and so does Sally O’Reilly’s.

Facebook Status

Sally Michelle O’Reilly: wants to know why whenever guys look in her direction they say, ‘Gimme dat’.

Ovarian Cyst Ruptures at 8:21 a.m., Tuesday, December 1

Sally O’Reilly lurches in bed because of a sharp pain in her lower back. One stab. Sally waits a moment, and the pain is already gone. So Sally sits up, scratches her head, and walks to the bathroom for a shower. Two minutes pass. Now Sally O’Reilly is lying on the blue bathroom tiles. Her stomach balloons to twice its size. Single teardrops fall from her unblinking brown eyes. She is sweating through her cotton pajama shirt. Sally’s lips draw back and forth across the linty carpet mat, “Oh, God,” she whispers. Sally wonders if a Mafia had been hiding in the shower stall, and has shot her in the stomach five times. Or if a lumberjack sprang out of the cabinet behind her and impaled her abdomen with an ax. Or possibly both.

Sally feels a gnawing sensation clench in her chest. She is going to throw up.

...continue reading...

Where Did My Confidence Go? [liz]

I like the freedom of a blue sky
And the cozy feel of a cloudy one
I want to sit by a fire
But hate it when my legs are cold
I want to be with you forever
But don't trust you like my friends
Any reasonable request is a Yes
And at times the unreasonable too
Where did my confidence go?

I don't want to make you sad
Living across the Western line
I did not throw out my heritage
You taught me to open my arms
So I did, while walking

I like the intimacy of the bar stool
As I swivel toward you
I like how you greet me
Can I ask you to stay with me
And not into the barley
Come, greet me again

I like to look nice and dress well
Then envy those wearing sweatshirts
I'm proud of my thrifty bicycle
Raise my nose to the villager powered by electricity
Then remember it was my choice

I liked how you knew me
Without having seen me in so long
I liked how you cared about my soul
And how you sent me flowers
I liked listening to you speak to me
And loved what could have been

...continue reading...

November 5, 2009

Stone Is Not Dead [judd]

Stone is not dead

Marble comes to life in human hands
He called it carne, meat to carve
God-fired-up with chisel and hammer
Forged and pounded, forged and pounded
To strike and chip, to file and etch

Stone is not dead

Stone lives in his hands
Stone breathes in his loving care
Stone exalts in his ministry
He sculpted stone into life

Stone is not dead

David was a damaged slab
Until a flat-nosed Florentine
Anointed it with metal

Stone is not dead

David’s pupils are hearts
Age 500, still emitting energy

Stone lives

In our hands

...continue reading...

November 3, 2009

Suspended in a State of Waiting [jessi]

We are all suspended in a state of waiting, and it’s hard not to notice the people around me:

Two teenagers on their way to a rodeo. I had no idea you could buy a cowboy-hat shaped box for your cowboy hats. An elderly couple sits closest to the gate. He blows his nose and clears his throat intermittently—his wife ignores him, focusing her attentions on her Sudoku book. A group of men and women are on their way to an orthodontists’ convention. They call out to each other as they board separately, “don’t forget to floss!” and “you wear your retainer, now.”

It’s funny what a common destination will do to bring people together, and that’s one of the things I love about traveling. I’m not very chatty on a cross country flight (mostly because the monotonous hum of the jet engine quickly puts me to sleep), but even so, I am fascinated by the people I meet that are so outside of my normal sphere. It’s enchanting and addicting.

On a Philadelphia to Seattle flight two years ago, a friend and I spent the whole five-and-a-half hours passing notes back and forth about the man in front of us. He was a Bulgarian national dressed in leather, with a futuristic looking wristwatch that clearly had room for either a cyanide pill or a computer chip containing top-secret information (but not both). He waggled his eyebrows menacingly at the flight attendants, and growled when they did not bring his food quickly enough. We had just drawn the conclusion that he was a Jason Bourne-style villain (most likely an International hit man), when the in-flight movie began. It turns out International hit men are surprisingly fond of cartoon squirrels and Amy Adams. I’ve sat through Enchanted while on a plane a grand total of four times, and I’ve never experienced a fellow passenger laughing as heartily (albeit gruffly, and with growly overtones) as my Bulgarian hit man

A few weeks ago I was killing time in the Anacortes ferry terminal, waiting to walk on to the 12:30 ferry to Orcas Island, and I struck up conversation with a furniture builder who began by telling me that he took a weekend trip and ended up staying away for two months. When someone dangles a conversational tidbit like that, you end up following it, and sometimes you cover every subject from teenage daughters, broken dreams and questioning your faith, but later you can’t recall the original answer to the original question.

Sometimes it isn’t a shared conversation. Sometimes it’s standing back and catching someone’s eye and knowing you’re both thinking the same thing.

I sat in front of a college student once who spent the whole flight earnestly trying to impress the attractive German girl sharing his row. His opening line was, “I have a man-crush on Socrates.” I thought this was kind of a cute way to begin, but three hours he was going full tilt with his philosophy of man, and the ultimate religion he was very close to cobbling together that would answer all of life’s questions (since, he confidently shared, no single religion in existence had the ability to do so). His distracted and entirely self involved discourse continued unabated for the rest of the flight, and even after we had disembarked and were walking en masse toward Baggage Claim. My sister shushed me, but two other people smirked when I stage-whispered, “Five hours! He’s been talking for five hours!”

When I used to visit my sister in San Francisco, one of our favorite things was to find The Bushman and watch him scare the living daylights out of people. Once we stood middle of a crowd of people for about 20 minutes, many with their video cameras rolling, watching this guy. People who normally wouldn’t look each other in the eye while walking down the street completely let down their guard. Laughing, nodding to each other, and finding commonality at the expense of the overweight tattooed dude who screams like a little girl.

I don’t want to make these experiences out to be more than they are. I know that to suggest such a tiny connection equals actual community is silly. But I know that sometimes these connections open my eyes to people and things around me. They soften me and bring me outside my shell.

Anyone else have these kinds of moments?

...continue reading...

October 29, 2009

I Search for God [teddi]

I search for God.
In rainy days with books,
debates and prayers
dirty looks
and condescending stares.
In the heart of intellect,
the corners of the mind,
all thoughts
and words defined.
I search for God.
In the heartbeat or
hymn or chant
or the embrace or tear.
Aching to find God
what great fear;
if found nowhere.
I search for God.
Wag my finger at the sky
“Make yourself real!”
The heaven’s sigh
at my
unwillingness to believe.
I search for God.
In my church,
in my bookcase,
in my home,
in my head,
in what was just said.
but the truth is,
I want to touch.
I want to touch so much.
I search for God.
He is not seen (in body, nor bones, nor skin.)
So there faith comes in.
Skepticism rapes the mind,
logic strengthens.
Is God left behind?
I recall,
I’m searching for an answer,
I am not meant to find.
I search for God.
Close my mind,
open my heart
to do my part.
Trusting He’s right over there-
over the hill, over the sea,
in my footstep, in my plea,
in my cells, in my very simple
very feeble attempt
at trying to believe.

...continue reading...

October 27, 2009

Hope Deferred: A Lament [vanessa]

Hope deferred makes the heart sick...

Life is a constant succession of transitions. As I look back and ponder my life, there have been five pivotal points of transition –
high school graduation;
the summer after my freshman year of college;
the semester I lived in France;
graduate school;
AND moving to Lebanon.

Each transition carried with it a certain amount of joy, anticipation, and excitement. Yet, at each of these points of change I found myself filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. Dread can manifest itself in many forms. Mine often creates a gut-wrenching feeling of anxiety that neither flees with distraction nor is calmed with busyness. It is a lingering stalker in the pit of my soul that never truly leaves, but simply chooses to hide in the shadows until another transition arises.

I am, yet again, at one of these pivotal points of transition. Once again I am at the place where I long to experience joy and excitement, but am visited by my bittersweet friendship with dread. In the past I have linked my relationship to dread with grief. Transition carries with it a necessary grieving process. I enter grief readily and do not fear the feelings of death and sorrow that accompany it. I have learned to receive sorrow as the baseline to the song that is life. Yet, despite the truth in this, this answer simply doesn't go deep enough. Not this time. My heart is a cavernous well that is desperately longing to have its seemingly insatiable thirst...satisfied.

As I see it right now, I have five options:
1. Ignore My Thirst
2. Quench My Thirst
3. Drink Contaminated Water
4. Deny That I Am Thirsty
5. Dive Into the Caverns and See Just How Deep They Are

Throughout my life, I have chosen options one through four [repeatedly] and while my thirst was temporarily relieved, it was never satisfied. I was, and am, desperately thirsty. Like the rich man in Luke 16...a single droplet of water would soothe the anguish in my soul. Even a moment's worth of Living Water must be sweeter and more satisfying than options one through four.

It is tempting to continue to cycle through doors one through four, but really those aren't options any more. They only serve as counterfeit fulfillments for the deepest desire of my heart. It is time not to desire less, but more.

The denial that I am slowly beginning to walk out of is now allowing me to see that my dread is acutely linked to my desires – most especially those that are deferred. One of my favorite quotes states that “our desires are not too strong, but too weak.” I've spent my time seeking satisfaction and fulfillment through work, relationships, education, sex, image...the list could go on. Yet I deny the deepest desire of my wayward heart – the thirst for Living Water. Desire is not inherently wrong, it is what it is. But the way in which I manipulate my life in order to ensure the fulfillment of my desires actually keeps me from being fulfilled and leads me into a carousel of vain imaginations.

So, then what does it mean to dive into the depth of desire? Not to explore it less, but to explore it more? What is this ultimate desire that my heart is so deeply crying out for? My soul is hungry and thirsty. I've have been to many lavish banquets and have feasted upon the finest food, only to be left feeling ill and malnourished. All that I have desired I have sought after was, in the end, disappointing. I am quite certain that even the lingering desires that roam about in the caverns of my heart will prove disappointing. In all of my searching I have found that there is truly only one desire that will not disappoint – Hope.

The Living Water, my Hope – our Hope – is the deepest desire of my heart. It is for him that I hunger and thirst and long for. All other desires are simply passing shadows of the Hope that has come, is here and is coming again. Without Hope, dread reigns. Yet, Hope never ceases to extend this invitation:

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.”

It would be easy to assume that if we could only drink a glass of this water or eat a plate of this food that my thirst and hunger would cease. Yet this is not the promise. The promise is that we will never need to look for another banquet to attend. We can be eternally assured that we know where the well is with the best water that never runs dry and the table that will never lack second (or fiftieth) helpings. Come...leave behind your table scraps and sour wine. Feast with me at the King's table. There's always room for one more.

...A desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

...continue reading...

Choosing Love in the Moment [tony]

Sitting here, trying to pull something out of my heart,
Wondering why it’s so hard to just write
Because me and you both know that’s where I am
I don’t want to make some unrealistic statement that sounds good
So my words are accepted by my audience
Because when my eyes open,
I come to find myself
Up on an empty stage with the spotlight in my eyes, blinding me
And only a couple pieces of scrap paper in my hands with barely anything on them
Because what’s on them is what I feel and that’s not what they want to hear
Finally realizing that I’m not some rapper trying to make it big
Because my stage is in my head,
And You are my only audience that I have
And You really don’t care if I stumble over some word because You are with me
I’m not driven by the fame and fortune
I just want my words to be heard for what they are
But when I write something down,
Does it have feeling?
Does it have soul, love, a point, a reason?
Or is it just to show something off, to make myself sound good?
When am I going to stop trying to use my head to write what I feel
When I really know what I feel when listening to my heart?

...continue reading...

October 22, 2009

Dandelion Wishes [guest]

Look across the street from my home and you’ll see what made me want to write tonight: a little black girl and a little white boy face one another on the steeply slanting front lawn of a Pittsburgh home. She holds a dandelion, makes a wish: "I wish I had a dog". She blows on the tufts of white seed, and passes it on to the boy.

Pan out just a little to the sidewalk with the Asian, Caucasian, African American walkers, friendly joggers, and post office customers, the residential slopes of Greenfield, the black hats and long skirts of Squirrel Hill. Make the steep descent into Hazelwood or across to Homestead and the banks of the Monongahela with its history of Pinkerton strife and the long-gone thick red dust of Furnaces 6 & 7 whose tall black frames still scrape the sky. Or roll down to Beechwood Boulevard or straight to Forward and fly westward on the spirit of 376 past buildings and trees, trees, trees all the way from East Liberty up and coming to the Hill District down and out of the city at Brady, out, out damn spot where the cars pile up under the bridge abutments, and sometimes I think I'll die down there when the night falls and traffic subsides and all that's left is graffiti and concrete. Overhead the road I love to travel opens with a panoramic view of Uptown cares and Downtown moves pushing school, government, peace & social justice, Steelers, Penguins, Steelers, Penguins, and then the heart of the city, the Golden Triangle lights up all twinkling at night with the thousand starry light bulbs and bridges of Pittsburgh, the most livable Pittsburgh. I am home. Born here. Returning here.

Thanks for the dandelion; I'll make a wish for you.

Rachel Luckenbill has recently relocated from Lebanon, PA to Pittsburgh, the city of bridges and steel and the city where she was born. She likes heights, Penguins ice hockey, and meeting new people, so the new living arrangements are working out quite well. She spends 70% of her time reading and writing while studying for an English PhD at Duquesne. In the other 30% she’s exploring, conversing, sleeping, and eating.

...continue reading...

Snoring [jenna]

Some years ago, I heard a tale of a letter to Dear Abby--or some other such advice columnist--that came from a woman wondering rather desperately how to stop her husband snoring. It provoked several months of dialogue between readers and the columnist, until one woman wrote in with the following abrupt statement: "Snoring is the sweetest sound in the world. Ask any widow."

I heard that story long, long ago--before I married, before I met my husband, perhaps even in my childhood. I don't remember when. It stuck with me, however, as such stories will. It added a line to the list of things I do not wish to wait for widowhood to find out.

Some time after our wedding, some all-absorbing novel had convinced me to stay up half the night making sure the characters got to live and be happy. Both my husband and I have become used to falling asleep in the lamplight as the other reads, and he had done so. Despite the draw of the novel, I kept looking over at him as he lay sleeping, shoulders rising and falling gently--my husband, so perfect, so beloved, so admirable.

Then he started to snore.

Snoring is the sweetest sound in the world. The novel lost my attention for a few minutes as I thought that over. Snoring is such an awkward noise, so startlingly loud, a sound no human is proud of making (I should probably point out that my husband doesn't snore that often and rarely keeps me awake with it). It is particularly irritating to the ears and mind. Part of me wanted to reach over and shake him awake enough to stop the snoring, but the rest of me found it so endearing that I wanted to drop the book, snuggle into him, and go to sleep with an arm around him. Not wanting to wake him--and really wanting to know what happened next in the story--I let him snore.

Since then, I find a little joy and gratitude every time he snores, even if I am actually trying to sleep. Whether that is primarily owing to the old story, whether a woman who had to wait till age thirty to marry has an appreciation somewhat comparable to that of the widow, or whether snoring just doesn't affect me as negatively as it would a lighter sleeper, I do not know. Probably all three. I do know that the moment I hear that sound next to me and think of that tale, the arrhythmic rasp becomes something like a lullaby. For his presence, even in its occasionally irksome moments, is always to me a matter of rest.

The snoring moments, the times when his sudden conversation disrupts my ever-important thought processes, and the other however-rare occasions when he somehow manages to come between me and immediate comfort mean so little in comparison with the simple benefit of his life so close to mine, even without reference to the myriad ways he comforts and supports me every day. I know what it means to be alone at night, and in the day too. I dare not forget. The pleasure of his company is too much a great and unmerited and unpossessable gift to be taken for granted.

...continue reading...

October 20, 2009

I Woke a Strange Place [joshua]

I woke a strange place,
my father was gone,
he must have wandered somewhere.
Mounted brown bass
Solid bodied;
Careens from wall to balsam lure
Sooted with dust.
Stacks of important work,
Cabinets of stuff
And the smell of coffee
he must have wandered somewhere.
He cancelled the news
Along with our talks
And the Canadian vacation that went to pieces.
The year of the big storm
When growing up burned down.
At Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

...continue reading...

Part II: The Problem Requiring a Solution [barry]

Do you know what this is?" he asked one day, handing me a dead piece of wood no longer than my hand but twice the length of his, wide at one end and sharply, but evenly, tapered at the other.

"A stick?" I offered.

"No, Daddy, it's a gun – and this is the bullet," he corrected obviously, pointing next to a tiny speck of wood about the size and shape of a grain of instant rice.

"Can we cut a hole in the gun for the bullet to fit in, and then paint it to look like a real gun, Daddy?" he then asked, supplementing his inquiry with his trademark, inimitable gesturing.

"Of course we can," I laughed. [But we have not yet done so.]

My son is a sweet little boy. He is sensitive and kind. Even when he's bossing his sister, it is obvious that he loves her – because his love and his gentleness are never far from his disposition. He is the easiest person in the world to hurt, and the quickest person in the world to offer his unflinching, unreserved forgiveness and love. Although he is not unique (indeed, every boy will create a gun if he cannot have one), there is more to him. His mom says that he is just like his Daddy. His daddy is a warrior.

The warrior scene depicted in countless movies begins with wavering soldiers – perhaps just peasants – holding tentatively to the meager weapons that they have brought to the field. They are cajoled (perhaps inspired?) to charge to the awaiting enemy and engage in fierce, brutal, terrifying combat with armored strangers heaving vast, sharp (and also blunt) instruments of mutilation. No man who has ever watched a scene like this can do so and not ask the timeless questions of Crane's Youth, "What would I do in this situation? Could I actually make the charge? Would I be brave, or would I run?"

I no longer have to ask these timeless questions. I know what I would do, for I have been there (in the modern version of the scene, wherein the swords and axes and arrows have been replaced by bullets and grenades and hidden bombs). I am no hero under any possible interpretation of the word, but I take great pride in knowing the answer to these questions. But this pride and knowledge have become my identity, and thus have become the problem giving rise to my painful suicidal cliché. This identity is what I must, but do not want to, kill.

How do I kill my design? My nature, my creation, is and always has been to be a soldier. I have know this for as long as I have known anything – indeed from the time that I was fashioning my own pistols and rifles out of dead sticks and charging unnamed beaches and unknown hills. I read The Red Badge of Courage when he was seven, and again at eight, nine, ten, eleven . . . not because I had to, but because I wanted to. For as long as I can remember, I have imagined myself on a field like the one in the ubiquitous scene, or similar field in a later time and place, preparing for imminent battle. From my first visit to Gettysburg at age eight, and on every drive through any country landscape since, I have rarely seen the poetic beauty and majesty of rolling fields and prosperous farmlands. Rather, I see, and have always seen, advancing armies and tactical topography: things I know now by names such as "avenues of approach," "fields of fire," "cover and concealment," and "key terrain." It is, to me, a special brand of poetry. The times and places where I have felt most alive – where life has been most real – have either been in battle or in leading soldiers to prepare for battle. This is how my mind works – in any and every situation. I am wholly comfortable with this knowledge, in this skin, in this being – for I know that this is who I am. In this way, at my very core, I am just like my Daddy.

But Daddy is more than just a soldier. He is a King, and a rancher, and so much more; and Daddy says that no soldier ever gets involved in civilian affairs. My mind swims in the paradox that, in the course of being the soldier that I was designed to be, I have been deeply entangled in civilian affairs – however much they appear to be warlike. It seems that the "reality" of war that I know and cling to is nothing but a ruse de guerre from the Shadowlands, distracting me from the war that my Daddy really wants me to fight. I don't fully understand this – as Daddy's allegories for war still seem to me to just be allegories, but I trust Him, and I trust that His reality is greater than mine.

My devotion to my identity as a soldier has now become an obstacle to being the warrior that Daddy created. My pride and my identity are killing – or at least (but no less horribly) preventing the full life of – my marriage to my Savior, my marriage to my wife, my fathering of my children, and the caring of my Daddy's flock. I cannot serve two masters, nor can I fight the battles over my family, and for my church, and for the Kingdom whose citizenship I truly possess, while fighting the earthly battles of my temporal country. And thus, my reality is neatly turned on its head, and the paradoxical choice of identity suicide almost makes sense.

I fear the battle that lies ahead. What will I do? Can I actually make this charge? Will I be brave, or will I run? I guess it's time to find out, once more. It's time to go to war. It's time to stop being a wavering peasant in soldiers' clothing and fly with reckless abandon at the enemy. It's time to teach my son what it means to be a kind, loving, forgiving warrior. It's time to get out the knives and paint, like Daddy did for me.

...continue reading...

October 15, 2009

Coins [nean]

They weigh nearly nothing
but they carry the world:
just five pennies,
one dime --
the extravagance of his love.
"It's just one more gift;
you can buy something nice,
for yourself...
or maybe someone special"
His intense eyes search
for the worth of my soul
as they beg my approval
"I know it's not quite
what you wanted,
but it's all I could find."
I wonder at the simplicity
of these small bits of copper
revealing treasures far greater
then mere value in change

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October 13, 2009

The Truth Follows [liz]

Truth jumps from my six story window
I am left to discern
Where did it go?
Naked to my eye
I scan the ground and find its affect
In a bite of fruit and a smile

The watchman knows when they come and when they go
But the wealth behind his eyes goes unnoticed
Believing he is just the guy behind the gate

Children dark and dirty run and
Laugh to forget what was lost
When the coal burned their lungs
But kept them warm

Three wheels and a cart touch the ground
At each push of the pedal
Truth follows the man who carries all he owns
Blessed with hunger and desperation

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October 8, 2009

Autumn Fog [judd]

Yesterday I was
Almost done with an ode to David
Marble giant marvel of
Michelangelo. The most beautiful
Man-made object I will ever see
(Not hyperbole)

But then there I was
An hour later
Driving a back road by a
Foggy autumn bog
Under a full moon
A white christening gown
Shrouding a painted marsh
Leaves in vibrant array
Awaiting last rites
Even as they are baptized
By the fog

An October morning
Will fade in November
And deserves
My words
Insufficient but all I have
To preserve the temporary

Tributes to David
Will rest another day
Because he is always there
Has been for 500 years

One moral
Go see David because
There is life in that stone
But along the way
Notice the fleeting
Autumn fog

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October 6, 2009

Rabbit vs. Snake [jessi]

Nat exited the train and stood blinking on the platform, dazed and disoriented. Her current state of shock lasted for sixteen trains which arrived and left again before she began to move toward the turnstiles that would lead her to the marble staircase, the glass corridor, and the cold January sun. She carried a battered cardboard box in her arms and had a bandage on her hand. The heels of her shoes click-clicked down the cement walkway and reminded her that she was a grown-up with grown-up places to go, and grown-up things to do.

As she walked through the station, she pondered the box in her arms, and the chubby brown rabbit within. Hazel, had he been given his own way, would have been perfectly content to be smuggled onto a train. He would have munched his lettuce at ease, disregarding the swaying and tilting of the InterStar as it wooshed through the countryside at twice the speed of a normal train.

In retrospect Nat could see that she should have paid the extra fair to stow him in the pet compartment. It wasn’t as if the rabbit needed his box to be cuddled on her lap in a crowded car. And, of course, had she followed the InterStar’s posted rules of travel, she would have had a legitimate complaint against the other passenger who had also been unwilling to entrust her non-human companion to a train attendant. It was unlucky that they and their cardboard boxes had found themselves in such close proximity to one another—one chance in thirty to have ended up in the same car, and the odds were much less that they should find themselves in seats facing each other.

Two nervous women, each breaking protocol and liable to be dismissed from the vehicle at the next stop: one was carrying a rabbit in a box, the other possessed a large rat snake—a constrictor that had not feasted on rodent in several days.

It did seem unfair to be the one who was turned off the train, since her animal had not been the aggressor in the incident. But Nat did not have the cash to pay her fine, and she had the additional charge of causing an allergic reaction in the distressed elderly woman who had been seated next to her. Nat thought that the woman’s sudden breathing trouble was perhaps not the result of free-flying pet dander as Hazel the bunny attempted to flee his pursuant. She thought it more likely that it came from the shock of seeing the snake’s blunt nose burst through the weathered corner of its box.

They had been sitting in tense silence, listening to the snake as it roiled and scrambled in the box, smelling the bunny’s smell and becoming increasingly agitated. When it finally made its escape, it had frightened them all. The creature’s owner lunged after it over the fold-down table that separated their seats. Table, snake and owner all collapsed on Nat’s lap, and as they crashed toward her she threw her own box to the side not through any conscious desire to protect the rabbit, but from purely from instinct; she needed her hands free.

The woman caught the snake by its midsection and it writhed in her grip. Nat reached for its head and the frenzied animal struck, catching her hand in the fleshy spot between her thumb and forefinger. From that point it was all over rather quickly. With its head firmly in Nat’s grasp (Nat laughed later when she realized it was she who had been firmly in his) the other woman regained control of her pet as two train attendants converged on the scene. Nat was guided to the First-Aid station three cars down, and the other woman was escorted to the pet-carrier car to deposit her snake in a stronger container.

It wasn’t until the woman was paying her fine that she thought to question what triggered the snake’s unusual behavior. Hazel was no longer in his box, but he left a trail of evidence behind him and the investigating attendant had only to follow his little bunny trail of bunny things in order to find his sanctuary. He was lodged in a men’s size 12 wingtip that had disassociated itself from the side pocket of a duffle bag. Its owner had debarked some time ago, and was at this very moment in his hotel room debating whether to attend his board meeting bare-foot or in sneakers.

Nat was also weighing her options. The cascading tiles on the wall announcing the arriving and departing trains was mesmerizing—changing moment by moment, and delivering new possibilities with each new destination. The train from which Nat had just been dismissed was the last one stopping in Elgin that day, but many more were in proximity to it, and she had only to route herself by train, bus or taxi to reach her destination. Or she could hole up in a hostel by the station, or camp out in the station itself for one night and catch the same line the next afternoon.

It was only a minor holdup—she could proceed forward. But then the thought occurred that perhaps she had been given a sign. Perhaps God in the form of a reptile had arrested her journey in order to give her a change of direction, and perhaps instead of the security of the known, she should throw caution to the wind. Exchange the immovability of the mountains for the changeability of the seaside. Trade the job offer for a transitory existence. Let the apartment be rented out while she occupied a train compartment, or the back bench of a bus. If there were one life form she were certain God would not cloak himself in, it was a snake, and yet…and yet…

The departures board continued its change, flipping tiles to reveal new track numbers, and new ports of call. Nat smiled. Ultimately she didn’t believe in signs, but she did believe in the knot in her stomach when it released and gave her that sense of calm that she hadn’t felt in years.

“Come on, bunny” she said, heading toward the ticket booth. “Let’s visit the sea.”

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October 2, 2009

Two Hours [guest]

Two hours
seems an interminable length
to the husband, father
who stares into the eyes
of his tiny daughter.
Newly thrust into
a darkened room
in this darkened world.
And wonders
if he will have to go about
this enormous task
without her.

Two hours
seems so long
to the mommy, the wife
whisked upstairs
to stare into the bright hooded lights
of a sterile room.
And wonders
if it is her day
to see the face of Jesus.
And pleads with God
to let her stay
to hold him
and raise her baby.

Two hours
seemed like forever
to the mother of mommy
the mother of daddy
when they got the word
“Baby is here.
But the mommy, we don’t know.”
And as they waited
and begged for God’s mercy.

Two hours
ticks by slowly
between one and three
in the morning.
As the wide eyes
and hungry mouth
of a little baby
refuse to conform
to the regimented schedule
of three meals
eaten in the company of the sun.
And the parents yawn,
and gaze
longingly at their bed
occupied by only one.

Two hours
fly by
when she tucks her head
beneath my chin.
Her pudgy embrace.
Her beautiful face.
This precious daughter, miracle
Gift of God.
When she smiles
coos, talks in tongues unknown
the language of tiny angels.

These hours
treasured up in my heart
not chosen, but freely given.
Gladly taken.
Each one a unique and glorious verse
of a new song
an eternal life.
sung by
God The Father.

Beth Linder is currently learning about wife and mommyhood in the Pacific Northwest Autumn. While she usually expresses herself verbally (sometimes quite noisily), she sometimes can find no suitable outlet other than in .doc form.

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September 29, 2009

Coffee Break 8:17am [justin]

The morning shutters with gray as we step out of our car. There is a faint odor of singed metal. My engine isn't overworking, it just doesn't have enough oil in it. Nothing has blown up yet, so even though I consider checking it, I convince myself that I don't mind.

We nod our heads at Tyr sitting behind the front desk as we trudge in through the glass doorway; it's his day of war so credence must be paid. Pure bread white collars disappear into their dens first, then blue collars pretending they're white, then the collarless whom we all secretly fantasize of being, but would never utter because of the social norm. Tyr, of course, doesn't have a collar because he doesn't wear a shirt, something which gives the older, conservative ladies something to talk about at lunch. They cloak it as subtle disgust all the while simmering their hormones and internally biting their bottom lips; he reminds them of their youth and how they were once themselves desirable.

I haven't done anything yet, but I need a break.

Skipping the coffee, I head to the restroom, closing the door and flipping the light switch. The tungsten light bulbs flicker for a few moments before giving off their greenish hue. Most things in this place are like that. The static things are well kept for the most part - floors, walls, parking lot, desktops, trash cans - but anything with any type of life or energy running through - coffee machine, lights, shredder, employees - are about to short circuit.

The off-white porcelain I sit on is cold, but I don't mind. Feet on the floor, elbows on the knees, I shrug my shoulders stretching my neck. The lower part of my palms support my forehead as my shutters slowly open and close, staring at the tile imprinted with strands of wheat. For the moment this is the land I rule over, albeit in isolation, unmovable on my throne.

I think of how we've been trying to do the same things our old ways even though life has changed and isn't going back. We use to worship a certain way before we were married and thought that way should stay the same afterwards, but that only drained us and enabled us to heap self formed coals of shame on our heads. We survived that, though never finding the new way (or maybe never letting go of the old, I can't tell), but now we have children even though we are still boys. Sacrificing one degree removed to context may be nobly possible, but two degrees is a chasm uncrossable; the next step after mere survival is but death, though maybe that's the point.

The thoughts relax everything except my brow and I continue my excretion. The odor is acidic and repulsive, but I don't mind. It's comforting in fact, if for no other reason, because it's mine. The toilet tissue is laced with bee's and a flowered pattern. As I start to clean up I hear footsteps on the hardwood floor outside the door and my eyes go directly to the knob. I can't remember if I locked it. Frozen and vulnerable, the doorknob starts to turn and in between the green of the bathroom lights and the yellow of the hall way steps in a giant fly. He is wearing brown loafers and a tie, twitching with all his eyes looking at me in disgust, as if I am some type of lower life form. I can't breathe, I can't even smell my dung. The fly's hair magnified to human size looks sharp and the dark needles threaten to puncture me.

Now twitching in disbelief I wake myself up hot and sweaty in my own bed, letting out a yelped though not waking my wife next to me nor my daughter a room over. Being exposed frightened me... even moreso than the monster that was disturbed by me. Swallowing for what feels like the first time in an hour, the saliva is like liquor over my broken throat and I realize the reality that has come upon me. While Tyr was missing one hand, I was missing both my arms. In my stupor I couldn't remember if I even ever had arms at all. I lie there floundering on my back, weeping because I am complete in Christ and incomplete in myself, not wanting another's arms to compensate for my handicap, much less need someone else to clean up my refuse which I am, by all means, unable to do at this juncture.

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September 25, 2009

Held Down by a Ghost [jenna]

Experience has taught me that I had better not take a nap if I can possibly avoid it; at times, though, tiredness triumphs over fear. If I must sleep in the daytime, I can spare myself a lot of trouble by waking at thirty minutes or so, but sometimes my body won't give up its rest; when that happens, I know what it will mean. Somewhere between sixty and ninety minutes, sleep changes, and REM sleep begins. For me, REM sleep is best saved for the night and the dark.

The sun comes through the living room window, shining over the couch. Having slept a full sleep cycle, I wake--that is, my brain wakes. With waking comes the immediate sense of a serious problem: my body has remained asleep, locked in position. My mind races, but the muscles are bound in place, unable to move. I cannot bend a finger or open my eyes; I cannot even draw a deep breath.

Taking several shallow, sharp, quick breaths, I try to push my knees down, away from my torso. The seconds tick by as I concentrate, till at last the spell breaks, my body wakes, and I breathe deeply. I sit up to prevent myself falling asleep again and take more deep breaths to dilute the adrenaline rush.

Sleep paralysis. According to Wikipedia1, the Turks call it karabasan, "the dark presser or assailer", a creature that presses on you and takes your breath. Mexicans call it se me subió el muerto, translated "the dead person got on me". The Japanese say kanashibari, "bound or fastened in metal", and the term has crossed over into English usage. Those of African descent, who are especially prone to it, call it a number of things including "The Devil on your back" or "The witch is riding you." The Irish, amusingly, who refer to it as "on the pig's back", think of it as the result of having told a lie the day before or of consuming bad whiskey (I can debunk that easily.) "Held down by a ghost" and "held down by a shadow" are Vietnamese expressions.

In the English tradition we find the term "Old Hag syndrome", after the idea of an demonic figure sitting on one's chest; Mercutio describes it in Romeo and Juliet. The Old Hag may be related to the word nightmare, as "mare" comes through Germanic and Old English roots with the concept of a malevolent spirit.

For those of us who experience it--which, again according to Wikipedia, is perhaps most people at least once or twice in a lifetime--the above expressions can be summed up in the word terrifying. An awake mind in an asleep body is a perfect setup for panic. I have found two ways to fight the experience: sometimes I can talk myself into going back to sleep, after which I might wake normally, but most of the time I force myself awake. The latter course of action entails exhaustion and shaking, but feels more bearable than submitting mind to body in return to unconsciousness.

Sleep paralysis occurs when REM atonia persists after the brain awakes. The atonia is a chemical shutdown that paralyzes the sleeper, preventing him from acting out his dreams in bed. The waking paralytic state can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and may be accompanied by intense feelings of dread and even frightening visions, as suggested by many of the cultural denominations; the Hmong call it "crushing demon" and commonly report the apparition of a small figure sitting on their chests. A sleep evaluation is recommended to anyone who suffers sleep paralysis over an extended period of time, to check for narcolepsy, of which it may be a symptom.

Some scientists think the visions some people experience in moments of sleep paralysis may explain alien abduction reports. I am grateful to have not experienced anything quite so dramatic. Though I've heard footsteps around me (rather creepy), only once have I actually seen anything in the paralytic state--my mother, putting flowers on my coffee table and talking to me, which was not at all frightening. I wanted to sit up and talk to her, and couldn't, of course; when I did manage to wake myself fully she was not there. Mine, therefore, is not the most compelling story; it is more kanashibari and less karabasan. Google searches turn up many a weirder tale.

Having outlasted the episodes once, I don't feel the need to put a fork under my pillow (as do the Maltese) or drink only the best Irish whiskey to escape the binding, though I might if I thought it would work. For those of us non-narcoleptics, the best fixes are to get enough sleep at night, avoid stress, and to not sleep supine (face up). Wearing an eyeshade during naps may help, too, as light decreases melatonin and low melatonin levels are suspected as a partial cause.

In the meantime, if you've got the Devil on your back, you're not alone.

1 Wikipedia: article on sleep paralysis, (accessed Sept. 22, 2009)

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September 22, 2009

The Seed of Growth [tony]

so tiny, so small
something so helpless needs to be protected
cared for and watched after
i myself am not yet grown, so how can i help something so tiny to grow?
why must something so simple exist and be placed in my hand?
is it too much to ask, “why me?”
why must i help such a thing grow?
ashamed i am of this small helpless thing, for it cannot care for itself
but i cannot take care of myself
so why don't you take it?
you can protect it care for it and watch after it far better than i can
so why must i take care of such a small but strong seedling
that you have placed in my possession? it is far too great for me to have
why must i?
it is so much bigger than myself, but still so small

why must i treat this gift you have given me
as if it is such a terrible burden?
you tell me it needs me,
but i feel that i need it so much more than it does me
so this seedling i have will need me to plant it in your soil
so then you may give it nourishment to grow
and it will give me its fruit
and when it dies, its seeds will fall
and bury into the soil and grow again for another to taste its fruit

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To Fly Free [vanessa]

[Movement One: Morning Conversations]

The bond is so strong,
Will I ever be free?
Locked in an invisible fortress;
Captive in the top of the tower.
The emotional enmeshment is so hard to see.
The physical so distant and nearly nonexistent.
Like a tether ball swinging round and round -
Never cut loose to play.
I feel eternally bound.

My child, it's not who you are.
It's not who I made you to be.
I know the pain is so great,
The loss so deep.
I feel it all with you as you wake and as you sleep.
I am not the Captor who keeps you entrapped.
I've given you wings to fly free.

Your request feels like a mountain I'll never be able to climb.
You're asking for all of me.
I don't even know how or where to begin.
The fortress is lonely, but at least it's familiar.
A picture or two on the walls might make it look pretty...

My daughter, you weren't meant to live in a cage.
I made you to soar.
Your wings have been crippled from years of abuse.
But don't be afraid simply due to their lack of use.
The window is open,
Fly out and be free.

I want to, I do.
But what if I fail?
I don't think I can bear the weight of it all.
My wings are so weak,
What if I can't last?
This tower is all I know.

It doesn't matter if your wings are too weak or if you fall.
I'm the One who'll rescue you from it all.
There's never a time you'll be on your own.
All that I've made I've given to You.
Your home is with me.
Abandon your fears, rest, and let your heart fly free.

[Movement Two: Waiting on the Ledge]

I heard Your voice beckoning to me,
Calling me to leave the fortress I've always known.
I stand on the ledge, peering out on the vast horizon-
Why do I wait when You've given me wings to fly free?
What is it that keeps me attached to this place?

The walls you've built are strong and dense,
There are few that could ever get in.
These walls are the protection you've built
To keep yourself safe from the pain you once knew;
The pain you never want to feel again.

What is this pain?
From where does it come?
I don't want to be entrapped anymore...but, I do.

All the pain you feel,
All the doubts you carry,
All the lies you believe...
They are your captors, they are the chains you feel.
Name them and be set free.

Name them, You say?
But then that makes them too real, too much a part of me.
I want to be free more than I want to be safe,
So I'm choosing to trust what you say.
Not Enough...
These words, and so many more, come billowing through the deep recesses of my heart

The truth, my daughter, will set you free.
The truth that these lies, these wounds, these places of pain
Are no longer your master, their power is gone.
Please open your heart and your mind to hear the sweet words I long to whisper to you.
Step over the ledge and fall into me...

[Movement Three: Free Falling]

I fall.
I expect to land and be crushed into a million little pieces.
Yet, You are You always are.
You catch me.
Not a single bone is broken.
There I lay, in the palm of your hand...resting securely.

The anxiety that once laid claim upon my heart is diminished.
There is nothing left to fear.
You are near and...
It is enough.
My soul now knows that all is well.

Once again I am free.
To Return,
To Hope,
To Dream -
Without dread.
I invite the future with a smile...

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September 18, 2009

God Might Still Love Us [teddi]

“Then Jesus said, `Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”-Luke 23:34

Didn’t wake up for church,
Kicked the dog,
Made the wrong choice,
Said nothing at all,
Gave up on faith,
Gave into anger,
Didn’t try hard enough,
Didn’t try at all,
Laughed when it wasn’t right,
Cried when it wasn’t worth it,
Forgot to say a prayer,
Didn’t count the blessings,
Spent too much cash,
Too prideful to apologize,
Yelled at the kids,
Lied to the spouse,
Gossiped about the co-worker,
Couldn’t give it up,
Made a judgement too fast,
Lived a double life,
Thought of the other person last,
Wasted the time,
Ignored the call,
Gave nothing at all,
Thought it was over,
Thought it was through,
Decided to argue,
Said, `Fuck you`,
Said `Why even try?`
Gave in and died,
Completely denied,
Let morals go to the wayside,
Didn’t take the time to cry,
Said, `It probably doesn’t matter`,
Shrugged and swore,
Thief, criminal, whore,
Liar, addict, murderer,
Ungrateful, unreliable,
Undeserving, unable,
Unfaithful, Unwilling,
Weak and small,
Even more and all,
There’s still redemption’s dance,
A second,

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September 15, 2009

Part I: The Bitter Solution [barry]

“It sounds like something has to die so that something else can live,” she said. And there I unwittingly found myself yet again – in the midst of this powerful, ridiculous, yet unavoidable cliché – standing on the precipice, peering over the abyss of this excruciating paradox that I have been avoiding for three years. Faced with a decision of death that to an outsider exhibits none of the conflict that crashes, and claws, and eats at my soul, I know that I have to act.

“Something has to die so that something else can live.” I know this. I've heard it repeatedly. This death concept has been a constant (despite my best efforts at avoidance), unwelcome, and unfriendly companion for these three years. I have never before feared death, or killing, for that matter. I have seen killing, faced death, have even been trained to bring about both, and have never been cowered by the prospects. But this death – this killing that I am called to commit – is different; for I so do not want to commit suicide. There is a time for killing, as there is a time for everything under the sun, but as every child knows, suicide is simply wrong. But here it is, this paradox: I am told that I must kill, but if I kill what I am told needs to be killed, I know that I will certainly also die.

It seems quite logical to walk away from suicide. The choice to live is an easy choice to make. What dictates the difficulty of this otherwise simple decision is that I know my God, in his typical, predictable paradoxical way that simply enrages me, requires this self-killing. Compounding infuriating paradox upon infuriating paradox, however, this God does not really even want me to actually die – at least not in the material sense. No, He would have me go on living corporeally, though otherwise completely dead. Call this spiritual suicide a sentimental “metaphor” if you want, but being confronted with the reality of this call to die without really dying is far more terrifying for me than any requirement to actually be broken, bleeding, and breathing my last gasp.

Although I intellectually “get” it (I grasp the story of Jesus and Paul's letters), I am not “okay” with it. Indeed, I hate it. If you want me to sacrifice my life – to physically die – for my family, for my country, for a friend, for a stranger in a foreign land, or even for an abused ethereal concept such as “freedom” or “liberty,” fine. Sign me up. I am easily inspired and readily brought to tears by stories and memories of Silver Stars and Medals of Honor, and would probably embrace those opportunities if presented. But to require me to die without really dying just reeks of cruelty. Finality without finality is one unknown that I just do not care to face. My mind and gut dread a paralysis of going on living without being able to actually live.

But that’s the deal, as I comprehend it. If I kill this thing that I am told I must kill, everything that I am, everything that I see myself as, will also die – but in the course of doing so, I have to be conscious of the whole process, of the pain and agony both before, during, and forever after the killing. I have to do the killing, feel the death, and still live with the aftermath and mourning when it’s done.

So here I am in this cliché, standing at the precipice. I am told that I must throw myself off, but am riveted by the fear of this suicidal death (that is not even as good as death). If I make this decision, if I take action and bring about this death, I will be no more. I am terrified of what lies beyond the execution – because "something" clearly lies beyond. Inevitably, I will continue. I know that I am held back only by my inability to believe that what I am hearing is actually true – that there will be life after this death. I fear that this "something" beyond is really nothing; that this promise of life may really be a myth, or worse, a lie. I fear that my continuance will simply be as a dead man. Surely I can buy just a few more days? A brief reprieve? Clemency from this non-death death? I desperately do not want to die.

No. I hear the bell of this painful cliché tolling, and know for what (and for whom) it is intended. Something has to die so that something else can live. I have to go with it.

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