I remember when . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about memory. In overhearing a conversation about a past incident, I found it interesting that one person was so sure of the facts, the other not—at least not the “facts” the first person remembered. I, of course, also had that particular memory, and mine being the only accurate one! was different from both. But isn’t that the case, that what is stored in our brain cells, to us is the gospel truth, when, in fact, the actual truth might, and probably is, an amalgamation of all the facts of the real incident.

That only God or Google knows!

Allowing for bias, missing crucial details because of proximity or aptitude, or loss of clarity over time, the incident can be something very different from one person to another. And its emotional impact quite different, as well.

I remember years ago seeing a television show called Thirty Something. In one poignant episode, the four or five main characters observe and/or participate in the same experience, but later as they sit around recollecting it and its personal impact, it would seem that they all had experienced something quite different. Some villains were heroes and vice versa; and some bystanders played more important roles in some of the scenarios. The incident as seen by the television audience you would imagine would have been the gospel truth, but that too was tarnished by the grid through which each of us perceive our world.

One person’s nostalgic memory can conjure up another’s bitterness and betrayal. We all have a tendency to place ourselves in the best light, whether intentional or not; and the harmful or even just embarrassing things, though truly “true” need to be filtered out and archived into grey matter that doesn’t . . . matter, that is!

I suspect it is just self-preservation.

But when it hurts, when it matters more, is if that other’s memory diminishes you and rewrites your history, and there is nothing you can do to edit the narrative because it has become fixed in their mind; and hence in reality.

I guess the moral of this commentary is that we need to listen more carefully than we do. I mean really listen!

We already hear and see and think about things, but very quickly all that data gets catalogued into our fixed brain-vessels that have decided who people really are—what they are like, what their worth is, their credibility, and their ability to grow and change.

If I have a 2023 resolution, it would be this: To listen with my head and my heart, creating as much as is possible a blank slate onto which I place that data. Grudges be gone. Over sentimentality be . . . well, not gone, but at least tempered with solid doses of scrutiny. Let those who hold a hard and fast history in their heads have it. But as for me, it will not make me feel less, and I will not use another’s view of me as the metric for my worth.

Collector of Words

I am a collector of words, a hoarder of fractured phrases.

I scribble in the margins of my life words wild and wonderful that shout a divine “wow.”

Other words I grind down fine as they seep into my belly, lubricated by tears.

Waiting.

Some words roll off my tongue, like gold threads of morning light:

evanescent

breathless grace

forgiveness

Wave-walker

fellowship

freedom,

and Camelot days.

Other words stop at my teeth, choke the air right out of me, saved at the frayed edge of my life where tension lives:

savage

ugly

betrayal

myth madness

splintered hope

withering,

and nevermore.

My linguistic calisthenics and mad manipulation are not just a benign desire to create, but an insatiable desire to find the right label to organize this messy mind, this muddled life.

To form this twisting and turning earthbound into everliving everafters—

thoughts that matter,

truths that stand.  

And so:

unfailing faith

intimacy

willed reverence

wrecked heart

repentant soul

passion outpoured, and

open-chested praise.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart”

                (the inside and the outside of my mind’s mulling)

“be acceptable in Your sight,”

                (pleasing, lovely, thoughtful, and honest)

“O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

                (my Rescuer, my sustaining One, the Hearer of my wandering heart.)

Ps. 19:14

After All This Time

One day slips slowly by, minute by minute, filling up its hours.

One life slips slowly by, hour by hour, day by day, filling up its limits, bounded by health and will and intersection with others on this human path; and

the child’s mind is still there behind the lined skin, the greying strands, thinning. And

the insecure teen is still buried somewhere in those pieces of flesh and neuron, hiding

behind her guitar, trying

to convince the world she is worth something—

trying to convince herself.

And the wandering, wondering minstrel is there with her boundless creativity and her endless insecurity, all muddled into one mass of synapses firing

with the only thing giving weakness away, the red blush that fills her cheeks,

announcing to the world that she is floundering in this finding of her way.

And in a corner is the hesitant bride, sure and unsure,

all the same,

loving and yet not knowing how to love, hoping against hope that she gets it right.

And the mother and the teacher and the artisan and the Christian—jumbles of crisscrossed wires, confident, failing, falling and rising,

sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, now tucking it all in the folds of the grey.

In these slowing days, she can pull out a thread at will and feel what it was like. It’s gone, but not. Each memory has settled into its place.

And there should be a contented sigh to see it shuffled and settled; and yet,

when wisdom should frame it all,

when lessons learned should feel so sure,

she feels she is only beginning this journey.

How can it be that this weighty five pounds of flesh should still be wondering and wandering

after all this time?

When I Was Young . . .

When I was young, I dreamed big dreams of earth and sky,

of progress and promise.

Context was safety, and I was so safe as to not know what real danger even looked like.

Though it would not have been right to stay in that cocoon of love and acceptance,

I often wonder

if that young girl had known what was really afoot in the wide, wide world,

the wild, wild real world,

would she have dared to traipse beyond the green fields,

the treehouses, and sandy riverbanks,

the hot-breath Holsteins, the feral cats made tame,

the safety of happiness, of home?

Would she have dared to sling a Harmony archtop guitar over her shoulder and run headlong into the unknown,

to explore the more complicated

and often darker underbelly of the world.

Probably.

But can I go back home now?

My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Approval Pending

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Recently, I started a couple of stock photography accounts to try and generate some passive income from the myriad photos I already have on my hard drives, as well as to be an impetus for continued creativity in my now retired life. (Notice re-tired means that you get to recycle all the “tired” you have felt for years!)

When I first started submitting images, I had more accepted than rejected; and yet, any rejection was a bit of a pinprick to my sensitive artistic self. How dare that anonymous reviewer not see the value in my work! After a while, I came to terms (kind of) with the idea that even though I might like an image enough to put it on my own wall, it was not necessarily going to conform to the criteria set forth by the agencies for products made available to their customers. Okay, got it. It’s just “business.” (Read that with a Corleone accent.)

I have submitted a lot of work over the last few weeks and have a lot of images in my portfolios. I have even sold quite a few, mostly for .25 a pop. Wow! Big stuff! But every so often, a particular reviewer rejects all or almost all of what I have submitted; and it is very deflating, making me doubt my photographic skills, my imaginative vision, my raison de vivre—okay, that minor depression is momentary, right before it turns to anger. Who are these nameless people hiding behind my computer screen anyway, who can deflate my ego with one keystroke of their preprogrammed criticisms? Dolts who fail to see the inspiration in my work! Sigh.

It takes a few moments, but I usually land back on my feet. I regroup my thoughts and fractured ego, realizing that I must try to be more detached about this process, not deriving my worth from what image gets accepted and what doesn’t. The reviewers are not uniform in their approaches to critique—it is not a totally clinical review process. They can be very subjective. At times, I will be uploading photos, and the reviewer, who is apparently on line at that moment, will be accepting everything as quickly as I post the items. I dive into a frenzy of uploads because I have a live one! One who gets me!

They like me, they really really like me!

But every so often, I will check on my uploads, and the reviewer has rejected every single image, some of which were already accepted in another agency. And I think: Okay, I will punish you. See, I am not going to upload for at least two days! That will show you!

Or not.

It doesn’t always take much, but that got me thinking. One of the agencies has pictures awaiting review in a file called “Approval Pending.” And I think for many of us, that is how we live our lives. In our work, our relationships with our family and friends, we live with approval pending. Our sense of value, our acceptance of person as well as product is fragile, contingent on the compliment, the Like on social media, the sacrifice of time spent, the nod of affirmation that contradicts our self-doubt and our feelings of a lack of significance. The Like is life! The affirmation is worthiness! And if we don’t get enough of it, if approval is forever pending, we spread the net wider and wider trying to find the thing that will for once and for all validate us. As if affirmations could erase betrayals or Likes could in any way be substance to build a life on.

As a person of faith who has placed her life in God’s hands, I must realize not only in abstract theory, but also in concrete practice, that my Approval Pending category is always filled with Yeses, always filled with acceptance. If I look to anything or anyone other than Christ from which to draw life, I will always be working on a deficit, always needy, always disappointed.

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God, thank you that Your acceptance is enough. You have not rejected me, but have drawn me into Your forever family. I cannot do anything to earn Your love, nor can I miss any arbitrary standard of submission that would cause You to reject me. When I am tempted to draw essential life from any other person or thing, when I am tempted to run after the newest illusion with a promised reward, would You remind me that approval is not pending, but is already mine because of the cross. There is no need for Likes when in You I have all Yeses.

And Yet

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I am sure,
confident in my banked experience,
my accurate perception, and
in my ability to determine how what I see and hear interconnects with all the memories,
retained,
recalled, and
relied on to make sense of my world.
I am certain,
not arrogant, but
certain in a way that leaves no doubt that I see better than those who disagree.
And yet . . .
There are those edges, bent and distorted that don’t quite fit the narrative—
yours or mine.
There are those blurred horizons that should be clear and stable, yet they aren’t, and so
I focus on what is in front of me. I cling to what I really really know.
And yet.
There is this growing feeling that my right-side-up thinking, so contrary to yours, might not be as faultless as I think.
There is this rising conviction that my perceptions that seem so fixed, yet so apt to divide, may be more fragmented than I know, and
I may not even know what I do not know.
I see clearly, and yet . . .
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“For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face.
Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].”
I Corinthians 13:12 (Amplified)

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These Carnal Threads

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I look down at my hands and know that within those tissues and cells, blood is coursing,
coming from,
going to,
minute after minute, circuit upon circuit. But where is my soul in this pink, freckled flesh? Where is my spirit in this troubled, pondering life?

Is the soul hitching a ride on red blood cells as they careen by the white?
Is my spirit holed up in one of my vital organs? My brain, maybe? Concentrated in a command center, overseeing all my worldly cognition.
Perhaps soul and spirit share space, intertwined in the four chambers of my pulsing heart.

But when the soul is gone, the hands are still there, and even the blood; what stops really when we say life is gone? As the flesh cools, lying motionless, is the me-part that is really me immediately absent,

or hovering, waiting for further instructions?

It is said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, but I am wondering when the absent happens. What changes in that one fragile second to another when what was thought alive is now

dead
and these carnal threads release their hold?