My Pen and I: In Sickness and In Health, ‘Til Death Do Us Part

BlogBkSo I had told myself I wouldn’t post personal updates. I want to give my readers more. But I hope you get something out of these stories. This post is about my blogging journey. How I’ve been on my face in the dirt this month, knocked over by hail and tree. How those nearest and dearest to me sat me up to the sun.

The happy part first: The friend who taught me to pilot this blog sent me a birthday ecard this week. I had to share it with you. No bolt of revelation, no profundity to shake anyone. But it’s been a hard month and it felt good to smile:

A little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, was running as fast as she could, trying not to be late for Bible class. As she ran she prayed, ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late! Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late!’

While she was running and praying, she tripped on a curb and fell, getting her clothes dirty and tearing her dress. She got up, brushed herself off, and started running again!

As she ran she once again began to pray, ‘Dear Lord, please don’t let me be late…But please don’t shove me either!’

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Gift Number Two, this one from a fellow poet. It was perfect. Yes, the picture on top. All last year I wanted to get myself a nice blank notebook for the on-the-go writing. You should see the piles of haphazard blog notes in my office. I’ve started filling in my precious blog book with future posts, my heart to yours.

Gift Number Three, a card printed just for me. My husband hit bull’s-eye. It was the most thoughtful card he’s ever picked out. Many of you have read of my daily struggle to keep up the writing while homeschooling and dreaming about vanquishing the dishes.

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These gestures of love sweetened the bitterness of February. I can share only a glimpse of what it’s been like but the flu got me good this time. I could count on one hand the number of decent night’s rest I got all month, barking my lungs out ’round the clock for a brief reprieve at three in the morning. There’s a lot more I could regale you with. So why did I continue writing? Because I couldn’t talk, teach, read to my son for all the coughing, but I could talk to you. At least after someone stopped hammering my head and rubbing jalapeño all over my skull. Why am I talking to you?

My brain kept writing.

Through the tears and the hopeless madness, my brain went off on a life of its own. I’ve experienced in a fresh way how powerless artists are against our calling. It is the sunflower that knows to follow the light, the monarch butterfly that migrates to the same place every year refusing to be deterred by 2000 miles of wind and elements. Life tries to get in the way but nothing can bridle a writer’s reflex. Clutching my ribs, I hacked away and reached for my pen like the half-conscious addict who gets his hand around the bottle. I was rehearsing what I realized I will be doing on my deathbed. Raise a stick of a finger to entreat pen and paper so I could share what it was like, night’s closing in on me. I haven’t stopped writing because that’s what we freaks called writers do.

Greatness, Finale: The Triumph of Forgiveness

Like a diamond, the attribute of greatness has so many faces its definition remains elusive. Thus far I have traced greatness along the lines of tenacity. I could go on to look at heroes who cope with severe disabilities or who have scaled Everest and run ultras that are four times the distance of a marathon. But I bring this series home with what I consider the most herculean of feats, to reach into the depths of one’s spirit in the costly act of forgiveness.

When someone injures us; mind, body, or spirit, it incites demand for justice. Parent, friend, or stranger has inflicted pain and must requite the wrong with contrition, if not suffering. The question that remains is what happens to the debt that goes unremitted. Someone must pay that debt and where the perpetrator has no plans to, the victim always absorbs the cost in one of two ways: with anger or with grace that clears the debt from the offender’s account. The acrimony that weighs on the unforgiving heart becomes an emotional cancer that often manifests itself physically. The liver literally stores the poison of grief and resentment. Understandably, freeing others of their debt depollutes our spirit and body. But life isn’t a treatise. You can understand the harm nursing grievance means to your emotional and physical well-being but if you’ve been abused, abandoned, attacked, or lost a loved one to a senseless transgression, you’re going to want blood.

Why is forgiveness so hard? To pay evil with grace is hardly possible. I wish it were as doable, as conquerable, as daily hours of exercise. Indignation is the compelling logic of right and wrong, and speaks to our sense of entitlement. The anger also answers the feeling of helplessness with the delusion of strength.

Corrie Ten Boon with her sister and father endured unspeakable atrocities in a concentration camp for having hid Jews in occupied Holland. Corrie, the only one in her family to survive, went on to preach God’s forgiveness all over the world. Here is a part of her story:

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones..the huge room with its harsh overhead lights…the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there. But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’ And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

Since the end of the war I’d had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

I can just hear the cynicism about convicts alleging conversion. That is besides the point at the moment: it is excruciatingly difficult even for Christians. We assent to, oh embrace, the God who sacrificed the Innocent to acquit a guilty race. Jesus made amends through payment of punishment. Atonement. He took every stain of my being and the worst I will ever think or do, and removed them from me as far as East is from West in an act entirely unjust to God Himself. In this post, I offer a glimpse of a long, dark season in which I was incapacitated. I will appreciate your reading The Question of Human Suffering before you debate God with me, and do it under that post while not expecting me to solve age-old mysteries. I share how it was Relentless Goodness that stripped me of all proud claims. But the insistence on self returns. It is the beauty of undeserved kindness, not the threat of retribution, that lifts us onto the higher ground of humility and compassion. Deep in conversation with the theologian Ravi Zacharias on a train, a woman asked him what Christianity offers that other faiths don’t. “Forgiveness,” he answered, meeting contemplation.

Full, deep forgiveness is an achievement of consummate greatness, a triumph worthier than Olympic gold because we are not actualizing or fulfilling the self but denying it. The human heart is the bloodiest, fiercest of battlegrounds; the place of pardon where we most profoundly attain the nobility of our humanity. For, I would add, it images divine glory. To answer insensitivity, violence, or hate with love calls for a power greater than our flesh can marshal.

There are a lot of bloggers writing their pain away. Every one of us has had someone to forgive. There are many bitter Christians, and on my worst days you can easily count me among them. But the Cross offers the why and the how we can move toward grace, makes the transformation possible. For a widened perspective of how people try to heal from unjust wounds, I would like to hear especially from those who do not share my worldview. Where do you get the power to release him, her who did that to you? Do you feel you can even try? Under the smile are you heavy with dirt spit by tires that went screeching into the sunset? Or have you gotten up, refused to call yourself roadkill? Is coping enough for you? Are you walking, or running? Laden with burdens buried in pockets or are you free of them? If so, how?

The Writing Process, Part 1: Color

mosaicI noticed something recently about the colors of the words that have streamed from my head these few months. The versicolor spectrum has many lighter, brighter hues than my writing has seen over the years. The lacuna of the last ten years where I was entirely occupied in the life of a wife and mother helped highlight the change in the timbre of my voice. Looking back at the single young woman from this side of time, I am a little startled at the levity in the beloved writing that I have picked up again. Because for much of my life, I wrote from a very dark place.

There is a creative force to the darkness, hence the archetypal artist who seeks to express the drama of his despair. In high school when my writing was a way of repainting and processing grief and anger, I was drawn to poets and writers like Sylvia Plath who spoke out of emptiness and flat despair. As my faith and hope in God grew into my 20s, I recognized a troubling truth. While my work was reflecting more light, an enduring spirit of despondency continued to inspire my artistry in both poetry and song composition.

And I didn’t mind.

I was tasting the addictiveness of writing under darker influences. The dynamic is fascinating to me. But it is remarkable that after a decade of sporadic writing that has gathered dust, I rise to see the sun on my words. I don’t think the difference is so simply a reflection of my faith, which was in many ways stronger in my younger days. And deep faith does not leave one immune from crippling self-talk or depression, as many spiritual giants in Christian history have shown. Nor could it be a straight matter of the joy I have experienced with my family through my 30s because I have had more than my share of unwelcome challenges in that chapter. It is more the rawness, the edginess the Great Potter has sanded and sculpted of my spirit. The awareness of self and others, that is, the keen knowledge of my own weaknesses and knowledge that everyone is a work in progress so I can relax and forgive and enjoy my life more is the posture of the soul that has written this blog. I now feel like it was a copout to depend on the spirit of encumberance to fuel my creativity. Certainly life is a mosaic of the great occasions of change, surprise, happiness, and pain and it is the helpless business of the artist to paint these colors in his chosen medium. But I no longer gravitate to the dark hues in my storytelling – because I don’t have to. I find myself enjoying the beauty, redemption, transformation of my art as I explore these very elements in the poetry of life.

A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight [Thoughts on Women and Suffering]

I’ve always been drawn to African-American history.  This novel I picked up four years ago repaints the slave culture of Louisiana that was new to me.  Something struck me about the half-white, half-black protagonist.  I wrote the author, a writing professor at the University of Riverside 20 minutes away.  Here are the excerpts of my email and of her reply:

It struck me that Moinette could have been Asian.  There is something singular about the poignancy of Korean drama.  The premodern Korean woman in particular was literally long-suffering.  It was not only the incredible afflictions Moinette endured and navigated but her taciturn response, her posture that could have set her on an island on the other side of the world in Asia.  I found it so interesting that her measured narrative and matter-of-factness in all the adversity were culturally familiar to me.  Her voice.  Was it the unremitting suffering that evened the voice, the hopes?  Or that she was a woman?  Or that she was not white? 

I did not take to the style too much, especially in the beginning.  Fewer clipped sentences would’ve smoothed out the reading – at least for me.  I continued beyond the first chapter because I wanted to finish what I’d started, but from the point of Pelagie’s murder I was hooked and found myself moved by the last of the pages long after the reading. 

Thank you for the enlightening and stirring journey!

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I’m glad you wrote.  I think those are some excellent parallels with the particular suffering of Asian women, of so many women of color.