Envy’s Wrestle

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 “Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me.  There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.”
Jesus, as recorded in John 14:1-3

It’s early January and I’m sitting in the room I had envisioned for us, for our family, for our school room. It’s simply furnished, neatly organized, sweetly welcoming. Sun beams through a side window, just enough. Sturdy shelves, busy bulletin board, map of the world, art supplies stacked neatly in a rolling cart. An analog clock quietly ticks on the wall opposite the butterfly chart.

Perfect.

Theirs.

We are in the midst of our 23rd year of marriage, 21st year of parenthood, 17th official year of homeschooling. First born is launched, living happily in Denver, Colorado. Second born is back to classes at Cedarville University, in the cornfields of Ohio. Third born is an active eleventh-grader, busy with studies, social life, and a job at Chick Fil-A. Last born dances through each day, busy avoiding school work, busy doing it anyway.

I shepherd, I guide, I do my domestic duties, provide taxi service, meals, food for meals… general mom stuff. In the comfort of my mother’s house.

Where’s this house? It’s in southeastern Pennsylvania, the house I helped build, the house I lived in from age 11 through marriage at age 26, almost 27. It’s the house I’ve lived in off and on since then, fully on since our third born was about 15 months old. She’s seventeen.

It’s the house where my mom still lives and fills with her stuff, her personality. This place we called “Mom’s Dream House” while we were building it — her castle since 1980.

Where’s my house? Oh, yeah. That. We bought a serious fixer-upper back when fourth born (a.k.a. the Boy) was a baby, back in 2005. Built in 1906, the left side of a duplex, it turned out to be unlivable and remains so, at least for now. In the interim between buying it and now, my husband joined and left the Army National Guard, my Dad had a devastating stroke, and the kids grew up, almost all the way up, in my parents’ house.

Dad died in 2013, I had a mental breakdown a few months later that rocked our family and landed me in jail for a few months. The children struggled through that year, and we slowly rebuilt our lives, growing closer than ever. The House (the unlivable one) collected our stuff, a storage facility with a mortgage.

Over the years I watched my friends buy houses, build their families, settle in to happy life mowing their own yards, tending their own gardens, puttering in their own kitchens.

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That last one really got me. Still gets me. I’ve always been a kitchen person. Our first apartment, a carriage house over a three-car garage, was my sweet little haven for two years. Its huge open-floor plan had a spacious kitchen, my domain. No children allowed there and severe post-partum depression following first born’s birth landed us at my parents’ for almost a year. When I was well enough we moved into a two-bedroom apartment, where we lived happily enough, which we filled to overflow with three kids.

Then we couldn’t afford our rising rent. We moved back in with my parents in 2003 and have been there ever since. 15 years.

15 years. I say it out loud and it feels strange in my mouth, a sourness spreading through my belly. 15 years of wanting what I’m sitting in now, this sunny sprawling house in quiet suburbia, my niece across from me drawing in her sweet little school room.

Envy has been my wrestling partner for a decade and a half. But there’s something about being in an 8’x15′ cell for a few months, owning nothing. There’s something about coming out of there to a spacious place where I could cook again and wear colorful clothes, even if it was my mom’s house.  My perspective shifted considerably in prison. Stuff doesn’t have the hold over me it once did, and I’ve found contentment everywhere I go.

But I still want a house I can live in. I want a place of my own. We are planning to whip the old house into some shape, moving out what no longer serves, making it livable — if not for us, for someone else, some other family to make their own dreams in.

And I know that someday I’ll have a place of my own, a home I’ll never have to leave. It’s promised by my Jesus, who always keeps His promises. He knows I want one here, that often I want it immediately if not sooner. When the wrestling match starts up, unseen hands squeezing my gut from the inside-out, I draw close. I call a friend to pray for me and with me, so I can make space for what I don’t want to stuff inside anymore. I crawl on Dad’s lap and cry for a while, letting the feelings wash over and through me. I grieve what I don’t have and may never have.  I accept what is and ask for wisdom for the next step.

The wrestle is not as strong as it once was, nor as frequent. But it’s still there. It must be faced and felt — then entrusted into the care of the God who, when all is said and done, is my home.

The wrestle threatens to pin me down, and sometimes it does. But the strength inside is stronger and together the Lord and I disarm envy. I look into my Daddy God’s eyes and find all I need, a shelter for my soul. My heart’s true home.

“Home could be the Pennsylvania turnpike, or Indiana’s early morning dew; High up in the the hills of California — home is just another word for you.”
~ Billy Joel, “You’re My Home”

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Drop Everything, Dear One

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While I’m tempted to do a bit about Christmas (i.e. the deeper meaning, the Christ child, the relative insignificance of gifts…) — I feel the Lord stirring my heart in a different direction. The direction I’ve never really been comfortable with. The direction of contemplation.

 “As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of             Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. ‘Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.’

 The Master said, ‘Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.'”(from Luke 10)

Now those of you who know the story of Mary and Martha and Jesus’ visit may see a hint of where I’m going. Poor Martha left to do all the work, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, oblivious to all around her… and, indeed, that’s part of where I’m going. But really, we’ve been so hard on poor Martha. Some may even see this as an account of Jesus essentially throwing poor Martha under the proverbial bus for just trying to have dinner on the table on time.

But what was Jesus really saying (with incredible love and nary a smidge of condemnation)? Essentially: Martha, what you’re doing is important and I’m so grateful you want to give me a delicious dinner. I also understand you want it on the table in a timely manner so YOU can have a seat at my feet. But, dear one, sometimes the most important thing is to simply drop everything for me. And for your own heart’s sake.

Confession time: I’m NOT by nature a good at-Jesus-feet-sitter. I’m NOT good at dropping everything. I get an almost drug-like high from GETTING THINGS DONE. Ah, the glee of crossing off the checklist, occasionally writing additional things down for the pleasure of crossing them off! Ah, the delight of that tired feeling at the end of the day, looking back on a pile of things DONE and falling asleep exhausted! Ah, the coffee-fueled buzz of whizzing about the house with a clean path emerging behind me!

But what of my heart?

Ah, that. Well, who has time for that? Really, my heart is FINE, just keep moving forward, clicking off the To-Do list! If I have time at the beginning of the day (before the coffee spurs me on), I’ll check in with God. And at the end of the day I’ll pull away from my phone to heft my Amplified Bible. Let it fall open to — wherever — and start reading before my mood-stabilizer meds kick in and I fall asleep (usually a good 10 minutes). Isn’t that enough?

No. How I wish it was at times! I could get a lot more DONE if Holy Spirit didn’t keep nagging me about sitting down and just being with my Lord for a while.  Honestly, especially when the caffeine has me humming, the LAST thing I want to do is sit down. And when I do sit down, all I can think of is, When can I get up again and DO something else?

Now hold on a minute. I’m not talking about a religious I HAVE to do this An Hour a Day Keeps the Devil Away scripted Quiet Time. I’m talking about daily connection, taking time to be inwardly still, at least, before my God, loving Him. I’m talking about walking in the Spirit, as He leads, into daily delight. I’m talking about taking His hand and letting Him lead. About, as 12 year-old Jesus said so succinctly “being about my Father’s business.” This, for me, starts with stopping.

Deep down, way down deep where my heart is crying out I hear the call: Be still and know that I am God. He is calling me to connect. And that’s ultimately all my very being wants, to connect with my sweet Daddy and receive all the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — He pours lavishly into me. Ingesting into my very being sweet Spirit fruit. But I rarely get this when I don’t stop. Acknowledge Him. Gaze into His sweet face and thank Him. I rarely get the gift of fullness in Him when I’m so busy on my own agenda I forget who — and Whose — I am.

My inner and outer whirlwind hears the Master’s voice:  Peace, be still. And Martha drops her dishrag on the counter, smooths her hands on her apron and simply stops. She gazes into those eyes and can’t resist the pull to sink at His feet, startled when He lifts her up, gives her a hug… and we sit together.

Soon we’re laughing and I find my mind awakening to deeper understanding. My soul is cleansed from the inside-out as fresh perspective washes away futility. My heart warms and I snuggle into His embrace. And I’m startled to discover, laughing at the improbability of this miracle in me! — I really don’t care anymore about what gets done today.

Because the most important thing has already been done.

Now, dear friends, can you relate? What strategies have you found helpful in connecting with the Lord? Let’s help each other by weighing in in the comments, below. Love you all!

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They Caught Glimpses

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“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’”

~ As dictated by the Holy Spirit to the prophet Jeremiah, some 600+ years before Jesus’ birth

 

I’ve been reading the “-Iahs” lately. You know, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah… those famous prophets of old whose works crowd the oldest part of the oldest best-seller of all time. Realizing they only had snatches of the book of books we enjoy today, only the Torah, and nothing of the Jesus we are so familiar with — has me intrigued. These prophets knew very little, all things considered, of God’s promised Savior. But they were given missions from God himself, messages for their contemporaries and those who would later read their works. They were conduits of the Holy Spirit’s urgent press to scribe what they couldn’t help but write. Thru them God told His people of the Promised One to come. The One they would never see on this Earth.

Now Jesus always existed as the Son, present with the Father from before time began. He knew before the foundations of the Earth were set the full extent of His suffering and the joy it would bring His heart (and, one day, ours). He knew. He was there. And He couldn’t help Himself. He came to Earth in His pre-Incarnation, appearing as the Angel of the Lord, as recorded throughout the Old Testament, carrying messages and encouragement. He frequently interacted with Earth’s inhabitants, though not as one of them… yet.

But those He visited? They crouched in terror, and with increasing wonder watched His word made into events that shaped them and their descendants. Shaped us who read of them in His Word thousands of years later. We read of these looking back, seeing with eyes greater than our own, with Holy Spirit-energized understanding. We see the prophecies of the coming Messiah and wonder at their precise fulfillment.

But those who were writing all of this down? What of the men experiencing the pain and joys of citizenship in this broken nation? This stripling of a country whose men, women and children, through the centuries, have been hunted down, persecuted, killed in the millions, these citizens of a barely preserved Israel? They caught glimpses. They studied, digging deep as the Holy Spirit came on them, to understand more of the blurred images handed them.

They faithfully wrote all they could, knowing they would likely never see any of its fulfillment in their lifetime. They wrestled with the anguish of apostasy in their brethren, marveling at God’s persevering mercy and grace. The Israelis would be broken down to almost extinction. They would be punished severely for rejecting their own God. But they would be restored as they turned from their wickedness,  tear-soaked faces, eyes barely able to gaze  into the eyes of a forgiving Dad. And to them Messiah would come — as one of them.

They would someday, as their Messiah did, as we do now — call Him Abba, Daddy. This shocking familiarity would rock the world around them, the audacity of running into a holy God’s throne room, leaping into His open arms, cuddling in His lap. They would flock to Him, reject Him, slowly trickle back to Him in deep humility. The end-times will see the nation of Israel recognize their Messiah at last.

But those to whom the prophecy was given? All those “-Iahs”? They peered into the mists, writing feverishly, anticipating what they would never see on Earth.

But several hundred years after they died, those faithful soothsayers would follow the risen Christ out of Paradise, the singing and dancing spoils of war won on the cross, a shouting train of captives, following His shining form into Heaven itself. They are the good and faithful servants of old, who gave us the promise of the Promised One to come.

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I can’t help but think how ungrateful I often am of the treasure I hold in the Word of God. This book of 66 books, each one carefully crafted, Holy-Spirit breathed: I have more at my fingertips than any of the writers of this book. For I have all, from Genesis to Revelation, beginning and end. I have this gift to savor, a book many are killed for possessing — all over the world — right now. Oh God, forgive me for taking this invaluable book for granted, for pushing it away for temporary pleasures. Teach me to love it, to live in its ageless truths.

And let me never forget those who scribed it. They stand in your presence, basking in Your pleasure and approval. They who only caught glimpses now see fully what we will also someday share. And we, together with them,  have all eternity to grasp what we can only catch now as bright, beautiful glimpses.

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A Quick Poem, As Tech Week has Stolen my Brain

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I am in a play this week, which has swallowed up my life and my mind. As this was written before the advent of Tech Week, I am fairly confident it will be coherent. Here’s hoping…

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Thee I freely give…
(Ah, that dear old hymn, how apropos!)

Surrender like this:
Trust
Give in
Release
Drop
Fall…

Down, down
Free fall!
Scooped up, pulled close
Your chin on my head,
Your breath ruffles my
hair, surrounds me…

I gulp You in
Weep
Weary
Love force presses out
All fear
“How can I doubt wh
Your love is surrounding me?”
(Ah, that dear old Matthew Ward song!)

I giggle, amazed — stunned
Joyful —
Because all fear is gone, somehow
Absorbed by You, dissipated in
Lion of Judah’s gentle growl
Purring pure
Strength and
Leoa inhales, exhales
Rising in humble,
Holy power.

 

Take Back the Day Part 2: I’m Struggling Today

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Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
~ Psalm 42:11

Today’s blog, coupled with Monday’s, should at least lend credence to my bi-polar diagnosis. Let’s be real, shall we? I’m not going to sugar-coat this day. My experience of this day is that it’s creating negative atmospheric pressure. In the common vernacular — it sucks. Today I am struggling with a variety of things, and no solution is presenting itself yet. I think you understand.

Today (Tuesday) began meteorologically the same as yesterday, though the temperature is climbing a bit. Same rain, rain, rain, same dullness to the day. Same, yet so different.

Today I awoke already exhausted. My mood stabilizer medication, the stuff I take at bedtime, sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of making me… restless. I’m asleep but I’m struggling with all manner of situations, some real, most an exaggerated version of whatever I was thinking about as I went to sleep. Last night I was thinking of a dance I need to learn for the play I’m in, which opens next week. So all night long I’m thinking: I need to rehearse, I need to get it down… which morphed into trying to teach a whole group of people a dance I didn’t even know myself. Added to this the irrational feature of a cast member hitting on me, which I know wouldn’t happen in real life. But as I dream in Technicolor 4-D imagery, it was certainly real to me.

I began to awaken before dawn, awake enough to realize the fight was on to solve the multi-dimensional dream problem while simultaneously fighting to set it aside and slide into a satisfying, restful sleep. I finally gave up and dragged out of bed, awake enough to pour a cup of coffee, but not enough to carry on a polite conversation with my Mom (or anyone else — please, please, go away, I can’t adult yet!). Awake enough to taste in my coffee that the half-gallon of half-and-half I bought yesterday was already a bit off (seriously? the expiration date is DECEMBER 11th). Sheesh.

Pondering all of this and the fact that my truck’s dashboard was beginning to sparkle,  warning lights one-by-one popping up as I drove home from play practice last night. And the fact that arriving home I rolled to a stop, a dead battery shutting off those lights in one fatal blink.

Thus began today. On top of that, while nursing my off-coffee, I peered inside to see my emotions: a dark, roiling mess. Now this isn’t unusual for me. I have bi-polar disorder, so my insides often don’t know which way to go on a given morning. I often have to spend the first part of every day sorting them into piles and dealing with them on a bit-by-bit basis. Today, though, it felt like too much. Added to that, a dear friend pointed out that my many vehicle frustrations likely stem from unresolved relationship issues with my husband. And I need to shake the sand off my ostrich head and face them. And there’s more, so many unresolved, amorphous issues pressed down by busyness, popping up like submerged beach balls.

So what did I do with this lovely mash-up? Yep, I grabbed my mug, trudged back upstairs, plopped on the bed, pressed my little owl plushie to my chest and cried. I curled up in Daddy God’s lap and just turned on the tear faucet full-blast, ugly crying, emptying out.

And I decided to (wo)man my laptop, following up my happy Monday Pollyanna-ish blog with this very real, raw, sucky day blog. Because some days are like that. Today I just want to scream, all the possible negatives sticking to me like the black blobs on Mr. Incredible.

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I don’t want to face any of the stuff of this day. I want to curl up in a blanket fort, but I don’t want to bother building it. I want to hide in a Netflix binge-fest. I want to self-medicate and push it all away.  I wish I could push it all away forever. To somehow live as a perpetually carefree four year-old, nothing on my mind but my dolls and my funny made-up stories, my toys and yummy snacks.

But I know that even with a necessary break I’ll have to face all the stuff. All of it. What can I do to face it in a healthy way? Jesus, how did you face all your crap-hitting-the-fan days?

All at once I see You in a darkened grove, just You alone among the olive trees, just You crying out your heart with our Daddy. I see You shaking Your fist at the destroyed, toxic chaos Adam and Eve unleashed on Your perfect world, the horror and futility of it all. I see you raw and real, crying out, saying, ” Father if You don’t do something about this, if You don’t help, if You don’t go back out into that mess with me, I will fall apart! I can’t do this — I just can’t!”

And I see gentle hands stretch from the clouds, light beams spiking through, illuminating dark spaces. I see our Dad reach down and scoop You up. Scoop me up. I see Him, face intent, his eyes knowing it all, empathy a cloud around us — such tender love! I hear deep, soothing tones, “My child, I know. I see you, I see your pain. I see your slumped shoulders, your eyes misty, forlorn. I see discouragement radiate from you. Ah, my child You know something? I never meant for you to do any of this alone. It IS too much for you to face. Lean into me, let go, drop into Me. You are enough for all of this because of one thing:

I am enough, little one. I AM enough. And I live in you. You never go anywhere, face anything, without Me.”

And I feel hope trickle in. I don’t have to have all the answers right now.  But I know His record. I remember sitting hopeless  four and a half years ago in a prison cell, my charges screaming death, hopelessness, futility to me. I remember light spears spiking all around me, showing me what I could only see with eyes bigger than mine. Showing me that somehow I had to hang on, that if it would get better it had to be God’s intervention. Nothing more, nothing less. In a moment I see the ribbon of my life, spots caught in flashes of Him coming through for me, again and again.

I still feel trembly confusion today, tears so close to the surface, unnamed, as-yet unknown pain turbulent in my belly. But I turn my chin up, look into my sweet Father’s face, Lion of Judah arrayed in light and love, all-sufficient, all-love. I know beyond knowledge He really is enough. And I take the next breath, do the next thing. It will work out. I know deep below all the chaos, the Truth, my Jesus, holds me close. He is my shield, my wisdom, my It’s gonna be ok.

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And in my tears I find I’m smiling, if only a little. On days like this, when the best case scenario is slogging through, I remember I have strong hip boots, I have sunlight on my face, a light-pierced cloud above my head, while the cold rain still pours all around.

It’s gonna be all right. It really is. Deep down I know it’s true. And it’s okay if my emotions take a while to get there.

 

Take Back the Day

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It’s raining again. Steady, penetrating, cold, continuous. A beautiful day! Wait, what?

Back when my girls were little, before the Boy entered our lives… no matter what the weather was like I’d do the same thing. Every morning, I’d walk into their room, push open their pink and pastel hearts curtains and say a variation of It’s a beautiful day!

It’s a beautiful sunny day!
It’s a beautiful cloudy morning!
Look — snow!!!
It’s a beautiful — rainyful — day!

I’d especially get excited about the most miserable mornings, a kind of reverse psychology I hoped would work on all of us. Because I used to be so jerked about by weather conditions…

Atmospheric pressure = sinus headache = irritability.
Cloudy = where’s the sun? = annoyance.
Sunny = glaring light = pull the shades.
Cold and rainy = the worst = pull the covers over my head, let me sleep some more. Except I couldn’t because two little girls and a baby don’t allow for such extravagances.

One morning, while it was still dark (when I could have time with the Lord, uninterrupted by the cacophony of tiny female voices, their insatiable activity) I reflected a bit on my brief stint as a temp in the work world. Every week was the same:  Monday we’d slog in. Misery reigned as the general consensus seemed to be “just get me to Friday.” Tuesday was filled with “tomorrow’s Hump Day.” Wednesday was — well — Hump Day itself, but small talk often featured “two days to go.” Thursday was  “tomorrow’s Friday.” Friday featured a countdown of hours till Happy Hour. And other planned and unplanned weekend extravagances.

Sipping tea and thinking of this, I remembered what those weekends were like for me, a 20-something English major working full-time during the summers, part-time the rest of the year, putting myself through college. Weekends were wonderful, for the most part — except for catching up on all the laundry and other cleaning shunted to the side during the week. And yes, Sunday evening had me frowning over the coming week’s landscape… Another week of drudgery slated for temps: making endless copies, helping someone or other reconfigure her workspace (actually that was kind of fun, but I digress), and — eventually — my daily heap of credit disputes to enter into the system.

And I saw that I had, at least in part, succumbed to the temptation to only live for what, two days out of seven? Realizing this with the proverbial slap in the face one day at work was a wake-up call. On my crawling commute home through Wilmington rush-hour traffic that afternoon I asked the Lord to change me. Thus began a complete mindset shift. I would (with the Lord’s help) find delight in each day. I would (God helping me) enjoy every day as much as humanly possible.

I initially found myself a bit of an enthusiastic, upbeat oddity in the office. But over the next month or so (before I went back to college), I discovered some comrades, a few who found plenty to laugh at and ways to inject delight into the usual tedium of working in a credit company cubicle farm. I marveled as I rode the elevator alone on my last day — I was actually sad to leave.

Sipping the dregs of my tea as that mom of three little sweeties, I decided that dark morning to impart a love of every day — regardless of its proximity to the weekend or lack of sunny skies — to my three little treasures. And, eventually, to my sweet son. It’s been an ongoing project for almost 16 years now. And I’m still amazed at the delight I feel, a steady gratitude for every day. And their (mostly) unflagging optimism going into their own days. A hard-won, God-given gift.

Every day a delight. Even this cold, rainy one. Especially this one. Thanks, Daddy God. From the bottom of my astounded, joyful heart.

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The Reveal

 

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Hungry for who You really
are — beyond understanding,
beyond my dreams, bigger than
The universe, yet infinitely
Gentle…
You know me so well!
I don’t trust my own mind or
My gut to perceive You, for
I am flawed, my knowledge inside
And out — so small!
I don’t even know myself
Unless You remove the layers:
of denial
self-protection
of I think this, I believe this,
I am right.
And when I see tiny me beside
You, so helpless, so frail!
I jump into Your arms, for this
World is too big for me.
And You — who are you, really?
Some amorphous Being, floating
All-powerful Amoeba?
On the day You spoke,
“Let us make man in our image,”
The being You formed in Your hands,
Into whom You breathed life — had
arms and legs
a body, a face,
eyes;
Adam saw You first, before gazing
around agog — a face like his, for
You look like us, an Image
so pure, to look on glorious
Heavenly You would kill us —
So You wore flesh and became
A man who’d get lost in
the crowd except for
those eyes
that smile,
this love.
I gaze agog, eyes unmasked,
Knowing beyond knowledge
Who You are —
In the reveal, where
You laughed
You healed,
You taught,
You died and rose again
Among us.
I’m accepted, adopted!
Big Brother pulls me into
Trinity’s endless embrace,
Emerge from behind the curtain —
To amazed applause.