Sunday, October 23, 2005

"in a garden of weeds"

when the sun seemed to fade
and all around the silence cried
wilted, shriveled
a head hung (bowed) low
as its beauty, piece by piece,
drifted slowly down

tears can only mimic
the dew mixed with blood
that fell on that parched ground

the sun paid homage
the silence sang praise
to that rose among the thorns

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Becoming "Onesimus"

I've been studying the book of Philemon. As I look at it this time around, I'm beginning to understand the impact this story has on my spiritual life. Though it was probably not on Paul's mind when he was trying to help these two men restore their relationship, I suddenly saw a resemblance between the characters in the letter and God, Christ, and myself. I was God's, given a name and a purpose by Him, and I ran so hard just to get away from Him. That's where Christ found me, running and hiding and terrified and angry, and he saved me. Not only did he give me hope, he himself pleaded with God to restore OUR relationship, to take me back as his daughter even though I stole what was rightfully his and denied my purpose and my name. Not only did Paul send Onesimus back to his master (who had every right to torture and kill him) so that they could make amends, but he told Philemon that his slave was finally going to serve his purpose. Onesimus, for the first time in his life, was going to be who he was designed to be.

Onesimus, by the way, means "Useful". He was finally becoming his name.

"Becoming 'Onesimus'"

Here I am
To be my name
Holding nothing
But a letter and my shame
Here I stand
Wanting to be
Everything you have called me

I ran
Through so many lands
To find a way away
No one
Called me “son”
So I looked to the horizon
I cried
I only tried
To free myself from you
I died
So many times
Before I lived
He found me there
And showed me how to breathe
He lived
And chose to give
Me part of his own life
I ran
Back through those lands
To meet my brother here

Here I am
To be my name
Holding nothing
But a letter and my shame
Here I stand
Wanting to be
Everything you have called me

Monday, October 17, 2005

I Didn't Even Bring a Tootsie Pop

I had this dream last year where I was dating a guy from school. Long story short, he did something that was so horrible and backstabbing that I got sick over it, and what made it worse is that he had no remorse. He just...let me go. I got so sick I had to drop out of school and became house-bound. Months went by, and my friends all consoled me, but I never heard anything from this guy. One day I was sleeping on the couch, and I rolled over to find him standing there in the doorway. He looked sick himself. I couldn't really make myself look at him, and he wouldn't look me in the eye. He walked over to the couch, got down on his knees, and without saying a word, he held out a boquet of Tootsie Pops. I remember so clearly getting the absolute biggest grin and just feeling such a freedom of forgiveness. I woke up, and I had the best feeling, actually wishing (to a degree) that something like that could happen to me so I could experience that overwhelming feeling of forgiveness again.

I've been thinking about the word "forgive" for a couple of years now. I know what it means to forgive, but I don't know what "forgive" actually means. It can't just be overlooking an offense. It doesn't mean forgetting about some painful thing. I couldn't find anything that really told me what it meant to forgive. If I can't understand the word, then how am I supposed to know just what God does with my offenses and what I'm supposed to do with others'?

I finally learned that it's all in the prefix "for." "For" means "away, apart, off," so "forbear" means to "bear off," "forbid" means to "bid away," and "forget" means to "get apart." The prefix carries with it a very active sense, a personal action of pushing or lifting or raising. "Forgive," then, would mean to, "give off, give away, give apart." Forgiveness is an active and purposeful separation of offense from offended.

God has actively pushed my infidelity away from our relationship. My offenses are not there anymore. They're not an issue. I cheated on Him, spit in His face, and made no effort toward restituation for so long, and yet when I came crawling back, He "gave away" what I had done. I brought nothing, not even a Tootsie Pop, but I know He just got the hugest grin.

Can I do any less?

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Part 7
Everyone got a rude awakening when I started having a diaphramic seizure in the direction of the ocean. I flailed unashamedly and ran back to the fire. Jon caught on that I saw it, too, and the two of us starting piling anything and everything we thought would burn onto the dwindling flame. Once everyone else deciphered our frantic commands, everyone was scurrying to find combustible items, which included underbrush, jackets, and a few leftovers.

We couldn't see what was attached to the light, but we were able to see it moving, so we guessed it was a boat, and because of our desire to live we guessed it was a rescue boat. The screaming and yelling and shoutings of "hey! hey! hey!" was almost deafening, but I knew I could buy new ears once I got home. We watched the vague lights as they drifted from left to right...but then they stopped! They stopped. Everybody started dancing and singing and hugging, and then remembered that we should probably keep shouting because, well, why not? So we did. We shouted and screamed and cried and laughed as we saw the lights become bigger and bigger. They were coming! Our rescue was coming!

I guess we were on a shallow side of the island, because the boat (we could see it was a boat by this point) started moving back to the left. We all started running over each other, trying to be the first to meet it on the other side of the island. There we were however-many-some-odd people running through an arctic jungle, sliding on ice, tripping on rocks, getting smothered by falling clumps of snow, only thinking about blankets and cocoa and a good "New Kids on the Block" dance party on deck.

I'll admit, what we found surprised us a little. When we reached the other side of the island, the boat had already anchored, and most of the crew (if they're called a crew) were standing on the beach waiting for us. They didn't look American, so we thought maybe those crazy Canadians were the nearest rescue team. Although, we should've known better, because Canadians can't grow facial hair, and all of these men (I didn't see one woman there) had long, shaggy beards. And the helmets with those horns on them also made us a bit nervous, but I think the biggest shock was that every last one of them was holding something...and by something I mean a spear or a club or a mace.

The one who was in charge (I could tell because he was holding a torch...and he was talking, and the leaders always talk first) yelled something to his men in some form of Icelandish. I had taken Icelandish in undergrad, but I hadn't brushed up in a couple of years, so mine was a bit rusty, but from what I understood, he said, "I, William Wood, am the one who has brought you this far, men! I have shown you many lands and many shiny things. But this is not about plundering, nor about getting chicks. Today, we fight for our beliefs. These are not men, they are animals, for they have eaten the Sacred Tabby." At this part they all snarled, and a few foamed at the mouth. "Leave none alive," (which is the part that made me a little uneasy), "and retrieve from inside of them that which they have stolen from this Holy Land."

I relayed the message, as I understood it, to my team, and we decided we should run. Joe tried to stay behind and fight, claiming that he could take down this "Willy Wood" with TWO dislocated shoulders and his eyes gouged out. We told him we were sure he was right, but we dragged him away with us as we ran. They ran, too. This became a race for survival.


Part 1
It started out like any other boat ride. Not quite a “three-hour tour” per se, but none of us were adequately packed for what was about to happen. Honestly, I don’t think any of us expected something as simple as a ferry ride to change the course of our lives forever. At the time, we were all just excited about watching the smooth waters of the Chesapeake Bay fade behind us and the thrill of a future in Greenland blowing gently in our faces. I guess no one can predict the future. In retrospect, there were bound to be complications on a trip like that, but none of us gave it a second thought when we set out.

The ferry man’s name was Francois Steinbeck, an ascetic priest and staunch capitalist. We probably should’ve guessed that a guy with a name like that wouldn’t really know how to maneuver a car-filled watercraft, and certainly couldn't navigate the troublesome tides of the Atlantic, but none of us wanted to think about the “what ifs”. When we first saw the whales, we all got chills of excitement. It didn’t take long for those chills to become fear-induced. It took even less time for those chills to become hypothermic in nature. Everything happened so quickly, and nobody really saw what happened. Some say a whale got caught in the rudder, some claim to have seen icebergs. Most of us think Francois was tipsy at the helm (apparently he was part German). I don’t know how a drunken captain would result in a ferry capsizing, but theories won’t get us anywhere. The point is, before any of us knew what was happening, we were in the frigid waters of the north Atlantic swimming away from dozens of flaming and sinking automobiles.

By God’s grace, our boat had overturned in the midst of a small patch of ice-capped islands, and everyone on board made it to the one nearest us. Needless to say everyone was scared out of their minds, but other than the stress of the situation, we all walked away virtually unscathed. We were able to piece together from Francois’ broken English (none of us spoke Swahili fluently enough to understand him in his native tongue) that the storm had blown us 20 miles off course. Yes, there had been a storm. More like a squall, and it had landed us in a place that had never even been charted before.

So there we were, a dozen strangers on a frozen wasteland and with 20 miles between us and our set course. We knew no one would be looking for us this far away from where we had intended to be. If we were going to survive, we were going to need to organize.


Part 2
We all watched as the blue, red, and silver specks that used to be our cherished vehicles bubble and spurt as they sank beneath the rolling waves. Sure we knew we needed to organize, but knowing and being motivated are two very different things. We all believed deep down that our futures were dim, and our rescue was hopeless, though only one or two people actually said it.

There was an older couple on the boat, shopowners I think, who seemed to have the best handle on the situation...and on themselves. I guess it comes from years of ordering employees around, but the two of them wasted no time taking charge. "Collect wood for a fire! Does anyone know how to hunt? Who's a strong swimmer? We're going to need to go back out there and raid the cars, see what we can find. I need you and you and you to help me find something to make shelter!" Any other time I would've been annoyed at two old people barking at everyone, telling us what to do, but at this point, I was grateful. I had no head for planning on a good day, and this was somewhat less than a good day.

It took the better part of 10 minutes for anyone to start doing anything productive, unless you consider yelling and crying and screaming and shivering to be productive. Once my eyes had gotten less blurry (I can't say if it was the salt water, the bitter wind, or the despondent tears), I saw for the first time the terrain of our new home. It was covered in snow, but surprisingly topographical. There were no trees and only a few arctic bushes here and there. As I looked around, I noticed something...someTHINGS, creeping along the snow in the distance. "You've gotta be kidding me," was the first indication that someone else had seen them, too. There they were again, only this time, it was clear what they were: cats. There were only two or three that we could see, but somehow we all knew the truth. We were on an island teeming with them. At first, I almost started crying again, thinking this was some sort of divine joke, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these felines could save our lives.

It turns out we only had one person who knew anything about hunting. His name was Joe, and he claimed he was going to Greenland to teach elementary school, but judging by how skilled he was with the trap he designed out of a steering wheel, a road map of Nevada, and a flashlight bulb, he's either an escaped convict or MacGyver. It only took him a few minutes to assemble his contraption, and as the rest of us started the gathering, we watched Joe as he bravely set out hunting. "Unbelievable," someone said as we were trying to find pieces of the bushes that we could burn. "That's one nasty prey. That man's got guts to go after those things." It did take guts, and we were all thankful that somebody had 'em. Lunchtime had already come and gone.


Part 3
We were all sweating from the heavy lifting and dragging of all the underbrush that we could find on the island, but to see a fire as big as the one we managed to make sparked at least a little bit of pleasure in our hearts, if not hope. As we huddled together, shivering from the midday cold (none of us were excited that that was the warmest it was going to get) we saw our mighty hunter appear from behind an ice mound. The entire left half of his body was bleeding, but none of us noticed at first. We were all too busy looking at what he carried over his right shoulder: there must've been twelve of those suckers, lifeless and ready to sustain our very lives.

He tossed them down on the ground in front of us. Some in our group jumped and squealed, some started looking for some wood to make a spit, but one girl, Lindsay I think her name was, just shook her head. "You all are so sick," she said, then she more or less stormed off and sat down a few feet away. "She must be a cat lover," Joe said, not seeming to be bothered one bit that his arm was falling off by now.

Luckily, we had a nurse on the least, a nursing student. Her name was Stacy. We all thought she must've been a maid judging by how tidy she had been keeping everyone's things, but once she saw Joe's arm, there was no doubting her medical training. As she inspected his arm and started rummaging through her first aid fanny pack, she started bombarding him with a ton of personal questions. They were the sort of questions that would make anyone blush, so I couldn't blame him when she got beyond the "how much do you weigh" type questions into the more intimate details.

They moved out of earshot, and there we were, trying to figure out how to BBQ our feline feast. We started doing it the way we best thought of, which was just to stack some logs and stick the meat on top of them. This seemed to be a good idea, at least at the time, but after a minute or two we heard a sarcastic and distant, "that'll never work." We looked up, and Lindsay was glaring at us from her seat some yards away. "And even if it did, they would NOT taste good."

"It's all we have, though," Sarah, the girl standing next to me, said. "We've got to eat something."

"Well at least season the meat, for goodness sake."

"With what? Salt water?"

"Gunpowder works the same as salt," she said in the same sarcastic tone as before. Sarah and I stared at each other, not quite sure if Lindsay was just trying to ruin our dinner, but with a sigh she stood up and came over to us. She opened the single gun we had on the island and poured some of the powder onto the meat. "See if you can find some oregano around here," she said to me. I think I knew deep down all along this girl knew something about cooking, and man was I ready to eat whatever culinary masterpiece she created for me! It was 2:30 PM by then.


Part 4
The smell of toasting tabbies and gunpowder filled the frigid air, and it was like nothing I'd ever smelled before...and never really hoped to smell again, but at that point I was thankful enough for it. Joe had been nicely patched up by the nurse, and he was currently making a crossbow out of car parts with his right hand and receiving physical therapy on the other. Apparently we had all the necessary personell to staff a small clinic, and Joe by himself could supply them with enough physical ailments to keep them busy. Amy held him by the elbow and wrist, repeatedly saying, "No, I said relax your arm...can't you just relax it? Do you know how to relax your arm?!" I guess the combination of making a crossbow and being yelled at by your therapist would make anyone's muscles tense up.

"Wow, it's so convenient." This phrase, dripping with sarcasm, came from behind us. "A bunch of strangers set out on a trip together, then they get stranded on an island where they have to fight for survival and are forced to face their past." There was a pause as we all just looked at him, wondering where he was taking this. "It seems like a really bad ripoff of that show LOST." We were all quiet for a moment, and this guy (Jon) looked pleased with himself, like he really had us pegged. "Wow, yeah, you're right. I never thought of it like that." A girl named April, shaking her head and oozing every bit as much sarcasm, spoke up. "It IS just like that...and I guess a little bit like Lord of the Flies, and like Swiss Family Robinson, and like Shipwrecked, and like the Apostle Paul, and like anyone else who this really has happened to. Wow, I'm really glad we have a man here to clear that up for us. Now we can all be SO much better off knowing that our lives are a cheap imitation. Thank you!" They just glared at each other.

"Guys, please stop fighting. It doesn't matter if this is an imitation or not. It's real, and we're all really here together, so let's try to get along."

Jon said (in the usual cynical tone) "well thank you, Lucy," while April simultaneously said, "Excuse me?" Lucy started crying and walked away from the fire we had all been standing around, and Sarah went to help her sort out her feelings. After that, none of us talked to Jon or April, primarily because we were terrified, but I think somewhere deep down it was also because we were mad at them for making Lucy cry...but mainly because we feared for our lives and dignity. Joe later said to me, "I was less scared when the cats were mauling me. I can't wait to go back out hunting so I can get away from these monsters."


Part 5
The tension was so thick you could've cut it with a knife, and we probably would've, and eaten it if possible, if we'd had a strong enough knife. The BBQ started smelling better and better to us, and I think even Lindsay was getting excited about our mid-afternoon meal. It'd been a whole 6 hours since the crash, the sun was beginning to set behind the distant ice caps, and we were all starting to scope out the island, looking for the best spot to make "home," though none of us knew what we'd use to build our huts.

Joe had gone out hunting again, of course with his left arm in a sling, and had returned with a kitten of one of the cats we had "spitted." We were all sad to have taken away her family, so we named her Catherine and called her one of our own. Granted, we had no milk for her, and nothing to feed her other than, you know...but she was so cute and so helpless and so orphaned on our account. I think we all were thinking deep down about how one day she'd grow up and we'd love her even more, but for the time being we pampered her.

We gave thanks for our meal (we were really thankful for it), and then dug in. Everything got really quiet while we ate. I guess everyone was thinking hard about life and survival and relationships and cats. Those moments were among the loneliest in my life. Who had I become? How did these people on the island view me? Was I wrong to eat this wild tabby? I didn't very much like the answers I was coming up with. This was all stuff I had never thought about before, and for good reason. Why worry about what people think, or what you'll eat given the chance? Nothing bad will ever happen. Yeah right.

As the sun went down, we each found a spot close enough to the fire to stay warm, but far enough away from each other to be left alone. Nobody wanted to talk, nobody wanted to cry, nobody wanted to do anything but sleep. I chose a spot that was only a couple of feet away from the fire. When I laid down, I felt a rock in my back, so I brought it out and befriended it. I needed someone to talk to about what was happening, and no one else seemed too interested. I whispered, of course, I didn't want to be the "schizophrenic" of the island. I named him Brody, and we talked most of the night.


Part 6
Well, when I say, "most of the night," what I really mean is we had a good tete-a-tete for about thirty minutes. After that, I couldn't formulate words anymore. It was almost completely dark (though the moon was reflecting quite well off the snowy landscape), and needless to say it was getting a bit chilly. We had all dried off for the most part, but even the slightest bit of dampness in our clothes made the area around the campfire sound like a crate filled with chattering teeth toys. I could hear some whimpering coming from the other side of the fire, and I knew somebody was brave enough to express what I was feeling: this is misery.

I was starting to feel woozy. I didn't know if it was the cold, or the smoke, or the cat kabobs, but I couldn't close my eyes without feeling like I was on a Tilt-a-Whirl. I don't handle Tilt-a-Whirls well. I needed to get up and move around...primarily "around" meaning away from the group just in case my gag reflex decided to engage. I didn't walk more than 12 feet when I found the source of the whimpering. It was Jon. I was so surprised, I didn't know what to say.

"Are...are you ok?" I asked, assuming that he probably got scalded by the fire or something and refused to tell anyone about it. I felt bad, knowing if he HAD gotten hurt, none of us really made him feel like he could tell us. "Are you hurt? We can wake Stacy up." "No, I'm fine. [pause] Thank you, though." The way he said "thank you" cut me deep. He seemed to be so sincerely grateful that somebody actually cared about him. I told him I was going on a walk and he could come if he liked (though I warned him that he might have to watch me upchuck). He acted glad to have something to do, and really shocked that somebody was talking to him.

Turns out he felt like he was losing his mind. We talked about the spat he'd had earlier with April, and he looked like he was sick over it. "That's not what I meant at all," he said, "I was just, I don't know, saying what it felt like to me. Then, when she started getting fiesty with me, I guess I just followed suit." It made sense the way he said it, and I really did feel bad for the way everyone wrote them both off at the end of their glaring match. He really was a cool guy, and he really was feeling lonely, maybe even more lonely than I was, on this icy island.

"So that's why you feel like you're going crazy?" I asked. It didn't add up in my mind. "Well, that's not all," he said, very hesitantly. I asked him what else was bothering him...if he wanted to talk about it. After a few seconds, he let it all out. "Nobody likes me here, and I'm used to having tons of friends. And I just ate a cat, and I'm a vegetarian. And the elementary school teacher is like MacGyver while I feel like, I don't know, I could do that stuff, too. And I swear I saw some lights out on the ocean, but I know we're billions of miles away from anything. And I heard..."

What?! Was he serious? He saw some lights! On the ocean! What if they were coming? I knew it was too good to hope for, but I hoped anyway. In the middle of his gut-spilling session, I booked it to the highest peak. Either I was destined for the loony bin same as him, or those were lights on the horizon.