I Know Why

“I know why the caged bird sings,”
Penned poet Maya Angelou;
And while pursuing other things,
I think I may have learned why, too.

She sings because there is no cage
Preventing her eternal songs;
Her perch is but an opera stage
Of golden wire. She merely longs

To sing the freedom of her heart,
No pen can silence Nature’s score.
Since every note is God-wrought art
Ne’er sung again, nor sung before.

And thus the cagèd bird sees past
Her false confinement, singing free
Her liberty, never surpassed,
In solitary symphony.

October 16, 2012

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The gentle shower whispers as it falls
That summer’s reign is coming to a close;
As summer slowly sighs, perhaps to stall
Autumnal purposes that shall impose

Upon the life of summer and of spring;
Undeviating transience galore
That all must die, for Nature only brings
New life to that which dared to die before.

But death brings beauty even in its wake
With trees aflame in orange, yellow, red;
‘Til winds and coming winter always take
The brilliance from the colors of the dead.

But barren trees and grey skies usher in
The purest white of winter’s offering.
While darkened days, and long dark nights begin
A longing for the light and life of spring.

A time for life, a time for death, is not
A mere cliché, for seasons follow true.
But such yields much more meaningful the thought
That only death can resurrect the new.

September 10, 2012

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The Window

My agèd window beckons me
To raise the blind and look beyond
The dust and cobweb gallery
Neglect and time have since put on.
What would I seek if I should gaze
At morning’s greeting through this glass?
A piece of earth? a misty haze
Of soil and sky, of trees and grass?
‘Tis not the window would afford
This moment’s beauty, or the next;
Nor does my mind fully absorb
What I and They and God expect.
My blinds protect me—such is plain;
No one sees in; I look not out.
But age has warped my window panes,
Distorting vistas, raising doubts.
I know I’m not the only one
Whose blinds serve more than mere décor.
They also filter too-bright sun
That might, in full, reveal more
Than just the warped and dusty glass
Through which I could see and be seen;
If I would choose the harder path,
And wash my filthy window clean.
You have a window much like mine,
With warps and cobwebs to look past;
But none experience the Divine
Without the fragile panes of glass.

“The Window”
September 8, 2012

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The “C” Word

My older sister, Patty, and her best friend/housemate Laura have lived together for over 12 years. They are not homosexual; they are as close as any two friends can be. They love each other. Patty helped parent Laura’s two children when her marriage ended. Patty encouraged Laura to complete her Bachelor’s degree; subsequently both of them earned their respective Master’s degrees a few years ago.

Last Wednesday, October 19, 2011, Laura had surgery to remove two large but assuredly benign growths from her abdominal cavity, most likely large (and common) ovarian cysts. Patty served as Laura’s “significant other” for the event, with the responsibilities of taking care of Laura once she got home (about three days post-surgery).

So it was no surprise that when the surgeon came out after two hours with tears in his eyes to tell her that it was, indeed, ovarian cancer, Patty was crushed. Two tumors, one the size of a baseball, the other the size of a small pumpkin (21cm x 26cm–yes, centimeters) filled Laura’s entire abdominal cavity, and the smaller one had been leaking fluid for some time prior to surgery.

There were spots on her intestines, too. There were another three hours of surgery. Now comes the waiting game–tests to see if there are other metastases, staging (right now they’re estimating a Stage III or Stage IV, based on what they saw), and grueling treatment. And there’s always the looming spectre of what “malignant” really means: a fight between life and death.

Never having had cancer, I can’t put myself in Laura’s hospital-issue non-skid slipper-socks. But I know what severe chronic illness does to a person. It interrupts an otherwise smoothly moving life. It brings up thoughts about the meaning of existence and one’s purpose and what comes after. It makes you worry about your family’s and friends’ worries over you. It makes you want to crawl inside a hole where you can cry all by yourself so that you don’t disturb anyone. It makes you feel guilty for stressing out other people. It makes you humbled by the fact that you have to ask for help. It drains your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional reserves dry.

And then, while you’re running through those concerns, there’s the physical issues. Fatigue. Pain. Nausea. General discomfort. Sleepiness. Insomnia. Digestive disturbance. Dizziness. Weakness.

And what of your identity? What of your sense of value? Who’s gonna stand up with you all the way and carry you when you need it?

I pray for Laura and Patty frequently throughout the day. I cried myself to sleep the night we found out about the severity of the cancer. The thoughts continue to lead to emotions that rumble in my gut and grapple their way through my constricted throat until my eyes burn with brimming tears. I wish they didn’t have to do it… But they’ll make it through this season and praise our Heavenly Healer from the bottoms of their souls.

And mine, too.

Posted in Expressions, Journal, Narratives

About Butterflies

Most people who know me know that I collect butterfly-motif items and frequent the Pacific Science Center’s year-’round butterfly habitat to photograph them, but not many know why. Here’s the story behind the fascination and symbolism I find in butterflies:
About butterflies…
I became suicidally depressed when I was 12 years old. I started drinking to numb the painful reality that my brother had cancer (he survived) and that I couldn’t successfully put into words the nature and severity of my depression. The adults I tried to talk to about it dismissed my communication efforts as “normal teenage emotional drama.” In an effort to block my emotions, I decided that instead of tears, I would cry with my blood—I began cutting on myself. I wore two watches with bandages under them all the time. I refused to cry for nearly a decade.
As I grew older, the depression worsened—I’m an extremely capable and independent person, so no one noticed that I was becoming more and more secluded.
In Bible college, it got worse, and I began “acting out” more overtly. I overdosed on sleeping pills and alcohol when my roommates were away; they came home and took me to the ER for a stomach-pump.
Over the next three weeks, I wrote several letters to people I cared about; the final copies were completed on my birthday as I holed up in a library cubicle pretending to study. Ten days later, I drove to a park, locked my keys in the car, took over 300 pills, drank a bottle of Nyquil, and headed for the woods. I never made it there—I went unconscious near the walkway, and a woman walking her dog called 911. I spent eight weeks on the psych ward that summer; over the next three years I spent over eleven months in psych wards and inpatient anorexia programs. I started smoking, often using my forearms as an ashtray. I was still cutting on myself regularly, removing the blades of disposable razors so I could “cry.”
One particularly bad night (LONG story), I took the razors and went wild. It was the day I was supposed to have gotten married—I had been trying to break off an engagement, either via murder-suicide or suicide-by-cop. Neither plan ever came close to materializing, but I was found with a loaded gun and suicide letters, so I was placed in the lock-up section of the psych ward for a week, then released after a week on the main floor. Anyway, a month later, on my supposed-to-be-wedding-day, I spent hours slashing both my arms with deep, satisfyingly bloody X-marks, several of which should have been stitched. It looked horrendous to say the least; but I was in the darkest part of my decade-plus depression, and didn’t much care who knew.
The next weekend was a church women’s retreat—my mom’s best friend was the guest speaker. It was a beautiful Indian summer day, and I decided to sit in the sun with Dianne as she went over her notes. I was wearing short sleeves despite the disfigurement of my arms; the 25 or so women at the retreat knew about my issues, so I didn’t try to hide them.
As I sat there enjoying the sun, a butterfly landed on my left wrist. With his little tongue, he started licking one of the ugly, scabbed-over cuts; when he finished, he went to the cross-cut and licked it too. I showed Dianne, and we watched in amazement as he licked his way through all six X-marks on my left arm. By this time, the other ladies had started to show up for the session, and we were all transfixed by this butterfly that spent twenty minutes licking my wounds. And then he flew away…
…To my right wrist, and proceeded to lick every scab of that arm, too. For 44 minutes, that butterfly licked each of my selfish, shameful, ugly wounds. Ironically, he wasn’t whole either—he only had five legs.
I was dumbfounded and lacked words to describe the profundity of the occurrence, having never seen a butterfly land on someone for so long and with an apparent purpose. I wrote a poem about it; the final stanza reads,

I named him “Hope” before he flew
to join the others of his kind.
He’d gone, but in my soul I knew
he’d sought to leave his name behind.

As I pondered the uncanny experience, I felt God for the first time in decades. From that moment on, I knew that I would someday be free of the blackness, the eating disorders, the constant fight to keep living. I had HOPE.
All because of a butterfly who kissed every self-inflicted, ghastly gash.
I believe that God sent that butterfly, that Jesus was kissing my wounds, that the Holy Spirit was telling me there was hope in spite of my immature, manipulative, self- and others-destructive ways. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that butterflies are often used as symbols of the new creation we become in Christ (see II Corinthians 5:17).

This all took place in 1994, the worst year of my life. It took time for me to find hope and trust; neither came naturally to me. I relapsed into anorexia two years later, but was delivered from it (exceedingly rare), so I had five years of normal eating before my health issues cropped up. (See Health posts for more on that.)
So for eighteen years, butterflies have reminded me that I ALWAYS have the God of hope within me; I am not a lone ranger. I am a caterpillar being formed by my Creator into a marvelous, colorful, strikingly beautiful butterfly for His glory and honor.
“To Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to His Spirit which is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

P.S. There’s a photo gallery link in the menu bar of my website; one of the galleries is all butterflies!

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Praying for Osama

Like most people, Osama bin Laden’s death and the subsequent behaviors of people have left me with more words than I can ever write or say. Our opinions are so strong, so inflexibly rigid and unbreakable, that we forget we are clay in the Potter’s hands, and that we need to be pliable for Him to work with us and through us. I understand that this applies to me, too.
The response of many Christians has me bothered the most.  To see footage of people rejoicing over the death of a soul that never knew the saving grace of Jesus Christ is appalling to me. Yes, he did and planned harmful events that have claimed many lives and injured countless more. Yet he was only doing what he believed was right—just like we do.
A friend posted an excerpt from Romans this morning that really got me thinking about how proof-texting is so common when referring to Scripture. We seek the words that will support our foundational beliefs, cementing our feet so as not to be changed, even by God. Our hearts seek words of evidence of our rightness, not of spiritual conviction; we read to further our impermeable mindsets, not to be molded into God’s image. The passage that finally got me was Romans 13:1-4:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (NIV)

But we have to recognize that the authority is God-given, not human-given. Besides, if bin Laden were an authority (which he was), Romans 13 indicates that his authority had been established by God. Who are we to assassinate a leader that God has placed in authority? Romans 13 doesn’t address “good” or “bad” authority—just authority in general. God did not take out His vengeance on Egypt’s horrendous Hebrew slavery for four hundred years. In other words, God used an oppressive ruler to make His people grow to know Him and love Him more and better. Can Al Qaida and bin Laden be the same for us?
Personally, I am against violence. Jesus Himself stated, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-44, NIV). James echoes this by saying that we should “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13, NIV).  I, myself, cannot envision any circumstance under which killing my enemy would be considered a loving act. If you are willing to love your friends and family by killing them, then I can accept your opinion about war and violence. But if you cannot readily say that you would not kill your enemy, you are contradicting the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Like most of us, my opinion hasn’t changed over all the debate. Though a misattributed quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., has been circulating the internet debates, I found some expressions that were from a sermon he preached:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate:
only love can do that.”

I believe that Jesus did not rejoice over the death of a lost soul. I believe that executing an unarmed man, leader or not, in his home after his family had been “evacuated” is nothing less than terrorism. If Obama had been killed, it would be an assassination; but since it’s bin Laden, it’s a victorious avenging execution. We set such double standards so often that we don’t realize that our occupation of Iraq looks exactly like the occupation of France under Germany in World War II. We are terrorists, too. The ones we kill are not evil; they are doing what they think is right—just like we are. We’re just on two sides of the same coin. And currently the coin is being flipped in a big way.
It all comes down to what you believe Jesus said. If you believe He said “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” then joy over bin Laden’s death is unbiblical and sinful. If you believe that the one time someone tried to defend Jesus via violence (Peter cutting off Malchus’ ear) Jesus rebuked him (John 18:10), then rejoicing is appalling.
There are myriad other non-violent instructions from the mouth of God:

  • “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:39)
  • “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”  (Luke 6:29)

And then there’s always the kickers:

  • “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Jesus, Matthew 7:12)
  • “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Jesus, Luke 6:31)
  • “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

Are you able to look at someone and say, “I lovingly kill you in the name of the Almighty God and His Son, Jesus Christ”? Jesus was all and only about love. He wept over the state of His people in Jerusalem. But He never carried a weapon; He supported the government by paying taxes; He did not revolt against the Roman Empire; He turned His other cheek numerous times; He loved the unlovable; He even prayed from the cross for His murderers. If we are to be Christ-like, how can we endorse anything but loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, even as they are in the very act of persecuting us?
As a side note, most Americans are wary of anything that might steal their freedom. But freedom is not a biblical right. When Paul was writing his letters, he addressed masters and slaves—obviously the slaves weren’t free just because they were Christians. We tend to behave as if we think that the people of the USA are the chosen ones of God, because we are free. But perhaps that’s Satan’s biggest lie of all—that we have a biblical right to freedom. But the only freedom we are promised is freedom from the burden of sin. The USA won’t be a superpower forever—someday we’ll be taken down. What will we think about God then?
John M. Perkins is a civil rights activist who has been involved in innumerable non-violent demonstrations since the 1960s. Despite the torture he went through, his theology is that of God: LOVE. And not just love for the oppressed, but for the oppressors. Love is Kant’s Categorical Imperative. If we all loved each other (without guns or bombs), there would be peace. But unless we can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we will continue the cycle of escalating violence.
“John Perkins said it right/Love is the final fight” (Switchfoot, “The Sound”).

Posted in Expressions, Journal, Spiritual Reflections, Revelations, & Lessons