Tuesday, December 22, 2015
There is, of course, the normal bedtime-- the merry-go-round of trips to the bathroom, drinks of water, requests for stuffed animals, tears over the end of play, and fussing at sisters. But then occasionally there are other nights. The little girl falls asleep in your arms while you are singing Christmas carols, and the middle girl curls under the blanket you have knit her, and the oldest sighs a tiny sigh when you turn out the lights. The joy of mothering does not depend upon such moments for survival...but in such moments, the joy indeed glows bright as you remember that it is a grand and glorious and fleeting thing to be singing your daughters to sleep.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
(Psalm of Complaint)
There are girls dying at fifteen
and girls who wish they had long been dead.
There are girls bought and sold.
There are girls left open for anyone
to track mud into their souls.
There are girls who have bootprints all over them.
Not just in deserts.
Not just in back alleys.
In our own churches, in Your own Body,
there are girls.
Made silent. Made scapegoat. Made shameful.
And then there are my girls asleep in their beds,
and the blessing of it crushes me.
(How many mothers would remove their own bones,
through their own flesh,
with their own hands,
to see their daughters in a pink nightgown
curled up against a stuffed rabbit safe in bed.....)
There are girls whose sorrow
I cannot carry.
I can clench my first but
all I feel is the smallness of my hands.
The frailty of my fingers.
There are girls whose grief would snap my spine with its weight.
I do not presume that I can bear it.
But my Lord,
you have borne our grief and carried our sorrows.
(Were you not despised,
were you not made an amusement,
were you not sold?)
I lay beside my daughters and I unclench my fist
because I know there are no girls
beyond the reach of Your rescue.
There are girls whose ashes will be turned to beauty
who will be spotless,
who will dance in your courts, who will never cease to speak
to shout, to sing worthy is the Lamb that was slain
There are girls
who will be made
(Psalm of Imprecation)
there are men
Let the Word wield the sword
I cannot heft.
Let it come from His mouth.
Let the Word divide between the bone and marrow
that I cannot pierce.
Let it rend deep the hearts of men.
How I long to see them cut in two!
But let it be Your wound,
the cut that makes whole.
I cannot look away from what they have done.
I cannot be satisfied that they will be tamed.
I must pray for a death.
But I pray that it may be the death
that brings eternal life.
I pray that they may be crucified
because wrath must fall
and wrath has fallen
The cup is full to the brim
but I pray
that they might be brought to the One
who drank it to the dregs
Such drink too strong and bitter for their throats.
They would choke
for all eternity.
And so I cannot pray
that they will suffer their own punishment
But that they will fall before
the one whose stripes have healed them
Rise up, oh God
And bind them up.
Uncover their nakedness!
And clothe them in Christ
Lay bare the poverty of their spirits!
For the poor in spirit
will see God
And I long for these men
to see God
To be no longer themselves
but my brothers
Saturday, September 12, 2015
You are old enough to read the sign he was holding, old enough to understand he was talking about cutting up babies, but what you couldn't figure out was why.
You came to me for that. I had to explain to you that not all wombs are safe places. I used the gentlest words I could, but murder gently worded is still ugly. You said that word even before I did. It took you less than ten seconds. Murder. Everyone has a right to live. Everyone.
You were fierce, and you were weeping.
I will not ask you to stop crying, and I won't tell you that you shouldn't be so angry.
I will tell you that it is okay for that ache to cut deep.
I hope that twenty-three years later, when your daughter is sitting on your lap asking these same questions, that you'll still have tears and anger.
I know I do.
You couldn't understand how it was that people couldn't see life when it was right in front of them. We talked of blinded eyes and our need for a lamp for our feet, a light for our path. Of the bonds of grace that keep us from such darkness, that give us eyes to see.
And we talked about resistance-- not by street signs that scare children but by arms linked with other broken-hearted-brave men and women. How we open our hands and do what we can. You know where your Giving Jar is going now. You know why we pray for crisis pregnancy ministries and churches and women who have believed lies. You know your God cares for those babies no one wants. You know what you'll tell your daughter, even what want you'll tell the President.
That's where you are right now, with your baby doll beside you, writing a protest
letter in your notebook. I wrote one too, when I was your age. My mother helped me mail it. I will help you.
When you first realized what that sign meant, you said you wanted to move to an island where all babies would be safe. I would love to live on that island with you. But I had to tell you that we can't outrun sin. We carry it with us. It hounds us and haunts us. The only hope for our murderous hearts is an entirely new heart. The only refuge is Jesus. Our safe place isn't an island but a city on a hill. I will live in that city with you.
And when we at last see the glory of our King cover the earth as the water covers the seas, we will know we are forever home.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Ten promises I can make to my girls when they come home from school:
- I'll listen to your day before I make you unpack your lunchbox
- There will sometimes be cookies. Not always. But often enough.
- When you tear all the toys off your shelf and make a blanket fort, I will do my best to remember that you've been trying your best to listen and learn all day. And that it kept you quiet so your older sister could do her math. Okay, relatively quiet.
- When you cry over playground injustices, I'll try to do more hugging than talking.
- Yes, you've got homework but I'll make time for bike rides and walks with Grandma and Lucy The Wonder-Chihuahua. And yes, you can have ten minutes to read that book.
- I am your study sidekick. Daring in the face of division....stoic in the face of spelling.... glib even while checking grammar. By the end of the year maybe you'll have learned enough to appreciate my awesome alliterative abilities.
- We'll say no to things when you need a family night.
- When I speak without love and lead without grace, I will ask your forgiveness.
- When bedtime comes, I will be exhausted. You will be too....so much that you'll forget you're tired and try to do acrobatics from the top of the bunk bed. But we'll pray and sing and snuggle and the last thing I'll say before I shut the door is that I love you more than all the stars in the sky.
- I will always mean it.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Violent holy men are the cockroaches hiding under the church's collective rug. No one wants to think about them, or talk about them, but every once in a while they scuttle out, usually without warning. The response of the church has been to shoo them back under the rug and hope no one notices. We are horrified and disgusted but no one wants to squash it-- think of the mess. The abuse of vulnerable women by powerful men isn't unique to Christianity, but it's uglier in Christianity, because we're called to so much more. It's the pain of this contradiction-- that something so profoundly soul-killing can happen in a faith that is meant to be soul-liberating-- that makes us want to look away.
Fortunately, authors like Cindy Sproles aren't afraid to take the long look. Her novel, Mercy's Rain, is by turns riveting, disturbing, and hopeful as Mercy Roller, a bitter survivor of horrific abuse from her preacher-father, comes to open herself to love and redemption. She's dogged not only by the things her father did to her but by the things she herself has done in anger. What she thinks will be a temporary refuge with a family of believers becomes much, much more.....a chance at a new life, at healing, and at love.
Mercy's Rain is a compelling book that I ended up reading all in one sitting. The plot, like the river at the center of the story, moves swiftly and rarely falters. The sharp contrast between the darkness of Mercy's birth-family and the love of the family who comes to care for her is well-drawn and effective. The tone is understandably heavy, but there are flashes of joy and even humor that will be a wonderful surprise to the reader. The characters-- including Mercy herself-- are well drawn and believable. Sproles takes great pains to bring human moments even to her villains. The Pastor may be a sadistic monster but there are moments in which he knows it, and even moments in which he struggles to become something else. He is by no means a sympathetic character, but we are not allowed to dismiss him as a mere caricature of evil. He is worse than that. He is the unrestrained and unbridled reflection of the depravity Scripture tells us exists within each of us, and that is more terrifying than any of his brutality.
The complex, bittersweet relationship between Mercy and her mother is a focus of much of the novel, allowing Mercy a way to work out the slow changes that are taking place in her heart. Her persistent work to replace hatred with love-- despite the frustration and failures she finds along the way--- is beautiful to behold. The romantic relationship between her and the “good” pastor, Samuel, is well done.
For the most part, Mercy's Rain succeeds at immersing us in its mountain-side struggle between good and evil. The reader does wonder, at times, why the Pastor's sadism did not sooner meet vengeance, but it is certainly plausible that a rural pastor could hold that level of sway over his congregation, even with the threat of hell-fire at his disposal. And the sort of evil that the Pastor wielded-- that shameful, secret, soul-destroying evil-- was not the kind people were willing to talk about, even to destroy it. The only real faltering, in this reader's opinion, comes at the end of the novel.
So, spoiler alert. Skip this next paragraph if you don't like to hear about plot points in advance.
At least one of the characters-- Maddie-- seems superfluous to the plot at that point of the story, existing only to give Mercy one more tragedy to mourn. Of all the deaths in the story-- and there are many-- I regretted Maddie's the most because it seemed like such a waste of her character. Maddie's injury and untimely end doesn't add anything to Mercy's journey but the reader's empathy is depleted at a crucial point.
The other distraction was that I felt the book would have been better had the two chapters been deleted. In my opinion, the book reached its true conclusion when Mercy decided there was room in her heart to love the baby she'd been given and the man who'd been waiting for her. At that moment in the story, her past was put to rest and her future was ready to begin. It's the book's natural ending. But we're given two more chapters, in which Mercy decides God is moving her away from her new family and her potential husband, only to change her mind in the last paragraph. Perhaps the author felt she needed some final crisis, but as there was not enough time left in the story for proper pacing, both the crisis and its resolution felt hurried. But even with that mis-step, the final moment when Mercy at last sees herself as worth loving, is a triumph that the reader cannot help but cheer.
Cindy Sproles has told a first-rate tale with Mercy's Rain. Even though its mountain setting may seem remote in time and space from our modern church culture, the theme is more than relevant. One doesn't need to look far to hear stories of women and men who have suffered under modern-day incarnations of The Pastor, and who've suffered again under the church's refusal to acknowledge the wrong done to them. Novels like this are one way to encourage them to speak out, to give them the sense that they are not alone. Like a hike through the author's beloved Appalachian mountains, this reader's journey through this book is at times arduous but the view at the end is beautiful.
Or find out more about Cindy and her other books at her website