Saturday, April 21, 2018

Five Minute Friday: TURN! TURN! TURN!

Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt.

This week's word: TURN.

To everything (Turn! Turn! Turn!)
There is a season (Turn! Turn! Turn!)
And a time to every purpose under heaven.

This is the chorus of the song "Turn! Turn! Turn!" written by Pete Seeger and popularized by The Byrds. Except for the "Turn!" part, the words come (with minor alterations) from the King James translation of Ecclesiastes 3, the passage that says there is a time for everything:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

We have this passage on an embroidered wall hanging in our house, and I look at it and think about it often. I draw comfort and reassurance from these words, from the suggestion that everything, even things that appear to be bad, have their time and place. 

This list of opposites reminds me of the verse in Colossians 1 that says Jesus is "before all things, and in him all things hold together." 

Somehow there is room for birth and death in our lives. Weeping and laughing. Loving and hating. I don't understand all those paradoxes, yet I sense that they all have a role to play. They are all things Jesus can use in making us, and this world, new again.

The "Turn! Turn! Turn!" part of the song isn't in the Bible, of course, but I imagine it as a call to attention and action:

- Turn away from seeing yourself as the centre of the universe; instead recognize that you're part of the human community. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

- Turn away from patterns that are enslaving you and others. Recognize when it's time to enter a new-more life-giving season.

- Turn away from black-and-white thinking, and recognize the gray areas, the in-betweens, the transition times when the old is dying but the new hasn't been birthed yet.

Turn. Turn. Turn.

Oh, and here are The Byrds singing the song:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Writing prompts: Light at the End of the Tunnel, and Random Acts of Kindness

Each time our writing group meets, we share our own work and give feedback to one another. Then at the end of the meeting we do a ten-minute freewriting exercise based on a word or phrase as a prompt. It's always fun to see where the prompt takes us and how different our responses can be.

Now and then I share a couple of these freewrites here on the blog; below are two I wrote recently. I hope you enjoy them!

And if you're interested in reading some of the ones I've posted in the past, here are the links:

An outing with Mommy; choosing baby names
Empty pockets; park bench
Cats and phones
Hardware store; train station


The prompt was "Light at the end of the tunnel." 

Susie's parents were as different as night and day.

 If her father said the cup was half full, her mother would say yes, but it had coffee in it, and she wanted tea.

If her father brought home roses for Valentine's Day, her mother would say they were pretty, but roses lasted such a short time; carnations were really more practical. 

If her father said, "It's been a long, cold winter, but I think we're finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," her mother would say, "That's an oncoming train, dear, and we're going to collide with it."

Susie knew the expression "Opposites attract," but she wondered if it always went both ways. She could understand her mother being attracted to her father -- he was cheerful and handsome and lively. But what did he see in her mother, for whom every silver lining had a cloud?

She put her hand on her father's. "Dad, they're about to close the casket."

They got up and walked to the casket. Her mother lay in stiff, cold repose, her lips firmly pressed together.

Her father touched the cold, lifeless face. "My sweet grumpy-pants," he said.

He turned, teary-eyed, to Susie. "I'm the balloon, and she was always holding on to my string, keeping me close to the earth. Close to her. Now I think I might just float away without her."


The prompt was "Random act of kindness."

It was "Random Acts of Kindness Day" at Kristy's high school. As she rode the bus, she tried to think of some kind deeds she could do for other people. Which, when she thought about it, meant they really wouldn't be random at all. Maybe they should call it "Carefully Premeditated Acts of Kindness Day."

When she got off the bus and headed up the school steps, Kristy saw Mitzi Moorehead standing outside the door with a huge tray of fresh baked cookies. People were grabbing a cookie as they passed by.

Right ahead of Kristy was a very dweeby guy named Randolph Smithers. "Not you, loser," said Mitzi Moorehead to Randolph.

"Hey," said Kristy. "This is supposed to be Random Acts of Kindness Day and you're telling somebody they can't have a cookie and calling them a loser."

Mitzi shrugged. "You can have a cookie if you want one. Just he can't." Randolph just stood there red-faced, looking humiliated.

Kristy wanted to slap Mitzi right in the face. Instead she lifted her hand sharply underneath Mitzi's tray, and the cookies went flying in the air. Mitzi screamed. A couple of football guys grabbed several of the cookies off the steps -- "Five-second rule," one of them said -- and walked away eating them.

Kristy's heart was pounding. She couldn't believe what she had done. Yet somehow she felt she had aced Random Acts of Kindness Day.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Five Minute Friday: OTHER

Today I'm joining Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is OTHER.

I have been having a hard time getting much creative writing done lately. It has been a very busy term with the online course I instruct, and I've had quite a bit of marking to do, so that when I finish putting extensive comments on 15 assignments, I don't seem to have much creative juice left. 

I'm making very slow progress with the piece of fiction I've been working on -- I've written only about 4 pages in the past month. And the poetry muse has been a no-show for the past few weeks. 

I didn't even write a Five Minute Friday post last week!

The worst thing I can do at these times is to start comparing myself with what others are doing. 

So-and-so posts that they just finished their 1,000 words for the day. 

Another person just got a poem accepted. 

Someone else claims that they're a writer because THEY MUST WRITE; THEY CANNOT NOT WRITE -- and I think, "Uh, but sometimes I can not write (that's the problem). Maybe I'm not a Real Writer. Maybe I should just give up on this writing thing altogether..."

But comparison with other people (whether with writing or anything else) never helps. I have to do what works for me and not force myself to keep up with someone else's achievements or techniques. Everything has its rhythms and seasons, ups and downs, ebbs and flows ... and writing is no exception.

I need to take it easy on myself -- trusting that when the time is right the words and ideas will flow, and making space in my life for the joy that fosters creativity.


Monday, April 02, 2018

A review of Kate Motaung's A Place to Land (launching today!)

Today is the launch day for Kate Motaung's memoir A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging. Kate is the coordinator of our Five Minute Friday community, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading her memoir.  

In touching prose, Kate writes of her upbringing as a child of divorce in Michigan, her calling to mission work in South Africa, her marriage to a South African man, and her mother's devastating cancer diagnosis. 

Throughout the book, change and challenge constantly stretch Kate's sense of "home." It is heartrending to read of how torn she is as she tries to support her mother from a distance while raising a family and trying to obey God's calling on her life. But as she brings her questions and doubts to God, she is constantly reminded of God's faithfulness despite upheaval and loss, and that her (and our) true home is in God's presence.

The description of her mother's illness and death was the aspect of the book I related most strongly to, having lost my own mom to cancer in 2014 and knowing something of that struggle to provide support -- and to grieve -- at a distance. In an interview, Kate has said, "Writing about my mom’s death [was the most difficult part]. My eyes tear up just thinking about it ... But they were therapeutic tears, and I’m so glad I’ve documented the experience, since the memory does fade. You don’t think you’ll ever forget something like that, but the details do fade."

When asked "Who is this book for?" Kate has said, "Hopefully A Place to Land will resonate with people with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds, but I think especially for those who are familiar with:
• Divorced parents
• Moving frequently
• Feeling unsettled
• Longing for more
• Dealing with cancer
• Grief
• Loss of a mother (or loved one)
• Living cross-culturally"

I hope you'll consider reading this moving book. (It can be ordered here, by the way.) As Kate describes it, "It is a heavy book, but my prayer is that readers will find it therapeutic to reflect on their own difficult situations (even if it involves tears in the process), and that eventually they will land in a place of hope."

Friday, March 30, 2018

Five Minute Friday: SETTLE

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: SETTLE.

Last night I entered the darkened church and settled into a seat. I had arrived a few minutes before our Maundy Thursday service was to begin. There was quiet music playing and a notice on the screen inviting us to sit quietly in preparation for worship.

Images and directions on the screen guided us through the service. At one point a picture of a basin and a towel appeared, and parts of the Scripture passage from John 13 about Jesus washing the disciples' feet were shown: 

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

 The instructions on the screen directed us to reflect on the passage. As we did so, the sound of water being poured into a basin could be heard over and over and over again. I imagined Jesus pouring water from a jug into a basin, kneeling before one of his friends and washing his feet, then dumping the water out and pouring in fresh water before moving on to the next man. 

Then I imagined Jesus kneeling before me and performing this humble service.

"Maundy" comes from the word "mandate" -- and the washing of the disciples' feet symbolized Jesus' new mandate for his followers. 

Jesus knew that the end was coming; soon he would be arrested, beaten, and crucified. Yet at this moment, his priority was not to strategize with his disciples, or distribute arms and supplies so that they could protect themselves. His priority was to show his disciples what true love is -- and to demonstrate this, he settled on the most menial act of service: washing the hot, sweaty, grubby feet of his friends.

Love is humbly and sacrificially serving others. Even those who might betray or deny us. Even those who already have. 

I can't stop thinking about this: the sound of the water pouring over and over into the bowl, and the realization of Jesus' love being poured out over and over for me -- an ordinary, flawed person, yet one whom He calls friend.