My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Approval Pending

IMG_6327 edit - Copy
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.

******************************************************************************

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.

Words Fall

IMG_9314 - Copy

Words, syllables, inflections,

breathed and yelled, soft and loud,

mouthed and thought, heard and not,

written and spoken,

valued and ignored, but so weighty for the one who owns them, for that one desperate to be treasured.

When we begin, words tumble out in disjointed digraphs and stutters,

cheered and encouraged by proud parents who imagine brilliance with each blurb; but

with time and teaching, the excitement diminishes, and like with any drug, the content needs to be more potent to illicit the same reaction, from spelling bees to grad speeches to wedding toasts and dissertations.

The audiences change, and the stories get retold; successful soliloquies get notched on the belt of significance as the words ebb and flow with the rhythms of life. But then

those who are really listening grow fewer, and more and more voices fill the air, diluting, refuting, and polluting

the airwaves,

the pulsing megabytes,

the pixelated opinions that fill our moments, competing with our aging soul-words.

And it is that—soul.

It is as if we start to live a little less, feel a little less, when our words fall to the ground just beyond our lips, buried in the myriad messages that surround and clutter the unnourished imagination.

And I wonder if all this noise will be forever the way of things—if loss and longing, poetry and song, description and discerning will lose their distinctiveness in the throes of hashtags, vlogs, and all the literary litter that swirls like gnats.

 

And Yet

2

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 . . .
*************
“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)

1

IMG_6596 - Copy

These Carnal Threads

From AB and MJ - Copy

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; but 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?

 

 

The Peace That Doesn’t Come

IMG_5931 - Copy
I swallowed up your fictions, building great thoughts and paradigms on them to support the framework of my soul’s integrity—because
I thought they were true. Really true. Truer than the dusty time-tested, grime-infested mores of another lifetime. Rusty religion.

And why not?

Everywhere I looked, the narrative thrived, as those in power connived to reel in the more, the many, the misled. Those in university demanded my allegiance and my reason. Media demanded my modesty and my shame. And the more connected I became, the more infected—yet still alone. The more I embraced plurality of thoughts and values, the more I felt this swirling nothingness of the all crowding out the any,

and the new flourished, silencing the drumming and thrumming of the old, what all people have always known—that there are true trues
and right rights, and
the fight is to cling to those when delusion and evil conspire, but
I swallowed up your fictions, wallowed in illumination,

waiting for the peace that doesn’t come.

The Daily Prompt: Renewal with a Hitch

img_0702-copy

Renewal always sounds bright and shiny, like a beautifully restored vintage car or a vibrant blossom in the spring bursting from what had looked like a lifeless branch. But the problem with renewal is that something has decayed in order for it to require a new life. So restoration is a good thing. Right?

But renewal comes with a hitch. What is new is chained to what is old. When I walk in fresh ways, my past self is not dismissed like a cast-off piece of clothing. My past is the chain tied around my ankle, reminding me that whatever lies ahead, whatever bright, polished penny-of-life has brought new promise and vision, I am only separated from what has gone before by my willingness to step intentionally onto a new path.

Sure there are helps in people and programs. There is spiritual renewal that comes from the supernatural. But as long as I walk in this skin and bone, my whole story is part of me. Deaths, accidents, betrayals, and sufferings, both physical and mental, do not suddenly and totally disappear in the presence of some mysterious regeneration of self or circumstance. Glass-half-empty does not of its own accord morph into glass-half-full. Renewal is the gritty process of intentionally looking to what is ahead. It is the planting of one foot in front of the other, heading toward a brighter prospect. It is the recognition that what is really real will become actually real when faith becomes sight.

In faith, I may be a new creature and all things may become new in some spiritual sense; but in truth, renewal here requires the commitment to press on in weakness, not forgetting the other chapters of my story, but putting them in the grander perspective of the whole story.

“Now I know in part; then I shall fully know, even as I am fully known.” ~I Cor. 13:12b          

 

The Whirring

029 - Copy

Pathways of the mind, wandering thoughts, detoured by suffering as much as certainty, and

attention to intention wanes with the onslaught of feelings—

vulnerable, sideswiped—

almost certainly erring, at least in part—and

the thoroughfare of mind-numbing thinking races unobserved behind this placid face and these guarded eyes.

And I would be lying if I told you it was all an exercise in mental agility.

And I would be lying if I said I didn’t care how things turned out or whether or not I solved my own difficulties, as well as the world’s.

And I could be trying to muffle the noise of all these crisscrossing thoughts and intertwined emotions, but this racetrack keeps running, lap after lap,

always seeming to drive nowhere—

nothing resolved, no destination,

but the whirring never stops.