Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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Love in the Balance

Apparently, the emotional turmoil of moving inspires poetic rather than prose responses in my soul.

There are so many things that I could say about my impending return to my home country. Even more that I could say about the consequent departure from the city and country that have become my loved, if sometimes uncomfortable, home. I could reflect on the sometimes humorous, sometimes hand-wringing challenges of culture-crossing. I could expound on the idiosyncrasies of the Italian language that continues to enchant and frustrate me. I could reminisce over sweet memories and mourn the imminent changes to dear friendships. I have feelings and thoughts on all of these elements of this incredible experience, but these are not the truths that welled in my soul as I walked to the kids’ school this afternoon (for one of the last times).

Instead I reflected on the ways this experience has changed me, and as often happens these thoughts brought me back to the faith that is at the core of the “me” who has changed. There has been a lot of change in me, that is clear, at least to me. And I suppose my faith has changed as well, but not in some linear sense of conversion from one form to another. Rather, these years have brought a new sense of synthesis. This is not a direct consequence of one or another element of my experience. My years in Europe have, on the one hand exposed me to much more variety within Christianity than even my seminary years, at least in terms of lived experience. But on the other hand they have in some ways left me on a spiritual island – isolated from the friendships where I feel most free to talk honestly and openly about my faith, marooned with my faith and my God to try to work out for myself what I really believe.

And I am emerging from this experience with a new sense of balance, an appreciation for the life of “the now and the not yet” that was academic in seminary, but is now experiential. In describing this, however, my prose escapes me. Instead, I share the poem that evolved from a prayer walking through the rare autumn sunlight of a crisp November Milan afternoon.

This morning's view of the Basilica in the sunlight.

This morning’s view of the Basilica in the sunlight.

Love in the Balance

Constancy that’s ever changing

as I shift my point of view.

Your face can ever bring me wonder,

every morn Your love is new.

*

First I knew You as a savior,

hung for me up on that tree.

Oh, the breathless love of sinner

called by One who welcomes me.

*

Then I knew You as a Father

firm, though loving, in command.

My call, I knew, must be obedience

always submit to Your demand.

*

I’ve also known You as my Abba:

Daddy, dear, who holds me close.

Nestled in Your sweet protection

perhaps this face I love the most.

*

A mother’s longing You have shown me

when I hold my children near;

a love that yearns toward my potential

balanced between hope and fear.

*

In blessed moments I have known You

as the Lover of my soul,

igniting passion for Your presence,

for only in You am I whole.

*

More often You’re the still small voice,

so hard to hear amid the din

of life that presses with demands

so urgent, as I am worn thin.

*

But other times Your voice seems absent

even when I call in pain.

Your silence deafens me from shouting

leaves me hopeless, Spirit drained.

*

Until I learn to sit in patience,

let the silence fill my soul,

find the peace of true surrender,

choose my faith despite the toll.

*

Your words are sometimes those of comfort,

sometimes challenge, sometimes call,

hope, rebuke, forgiveness, wisdom.

At different times I’ve needed all.

*

Such contrast can all seem disjointed,

“Who is the true Word hid beneath?”

But Truth can hold them all in tension,

each is true, just incomplete.


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A Psalm for a Rainy Day

I had no intention of writing poetry today. I had far too much to do. Today marks exactly 4 weeks to zero hour for our anticipated/dreaded move to New Jersey and departure from Milan. I have Italian contracts to cancel, and insurance inventories to complete, and preschool programs to research. I don’t have time or emotional energy to even read any poetry, much less to write any.

But, today seemed determined to draw from my soul a psalm of lament. To begin with, it began far too early, after the twelfth or twentieth night cut short by the demands of life. And as I opened the shutters to let in the daylight, there was precious little light to see. After a few blessed days of daylight savings sunshine, the grey Milano overcoat of approaching winter had descended again to cloak the city in melancholy.

Then, at pre-school drop-off, the Gigglemonster staged an unexpected and unexplained anxiety episode. He didn’t want to go into the classroom; he didn’t want to play with his friends; he just wanted to go home with me. I really don’t know what was underlying his sudden clinging (his teacher promises he was fine all day), but regardless of the depth of his emotional display he certainly knows how to push all my buttons. The peace I have felt about how we’ve dealt with some recent bullying episodes evaporated. Was he trying to tell me he didn’t feel safe? Was there some trauma he hadn’t yet told us about? Should I even make him stay at school? Eventually his lovely teacher distracted him with a helping task, and he let me leave with a smile, but I could still feel his little arms wrapped tightly around my neck.

Then my morning women’s Bible study exposed more raw emotions. Most of the two hours of talk was good, but very heavy. And then there were a few comments with which I strongly disagreed but which I didn’t have the emotional energy to fight, including an assessment of the recent tragedy in the Philippines. I can cognitively understand the position that all pain in the world is just judgment on a fallen world, but I cannot believe that is the full story. Not from a God who hung on a cross to take judgment that would otherwise have fallen on us.

A little light Facebook scrolling was not the palliative I was hoping for. So much vitriol and hatred and political wrangling! Is this the culture to which I am returning? Remarks that three years ago would have elicited passionate, rhetorical response from my socially engaged conscience now push me toward hopeless tears. This was not the balm I needed.

So, finally I turned to scripture. I thought about the psalms, but my fingers paged a bit farther to a book I’ve only read before in snatches. Lamentations. This might not be the obvious choice to dispel heaviness from my heart, but for some reason I began to read and I couldn’t stop until I had read the last verse, out loud, in the solitude of my living room. It’s not that it was comforting exactly, although it certainly put my first-world, white-girl, lady-of-leisure problems into perspective. It is nearly five chapters of utter devastation, interspersed with confessions that this fate is deserved. And yet there is one interlude that placed a value on the weight in my heart.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3: 22-26, NIV)

OK. So maybe I could wait quietly with this heaviness of heart. Maybe there was something to be gained, something to be learned about faithfulness from letting the pain stand. And as I stopped resisting it, stopped trying to push it away, instead it poured out, overflowing in a poem. Just as the clouds began to release their heavy weight of rain, so my heart released the weight of words that couldn’t heal my vague, painful aching until they were expressed.

To feel that cleansing wash would have been gift enough. Then, miraculously, I found that a poem was exactly what I needed when Princess Imagination dissolved into tears tonight just after her bath, sobbing on my shoulder about her sorrow in leaving friends for a home she longs for, but only dimly remembers. Instead of my usual mommy-talk of encouragement, I shared with her my own pain and the revelations it has brought to me. I shared, and she smiled. Sometime words that speak in images are easier to understand.

So now I share those words with you. May they bring some light if there is rain in your day today.

The clouds are full of rain today, they can’t but overflow.

The grey sky droops above my head, grown tired before I left my bed.

Clouds steal the color from the world, and chill my heart, cause it to furl.

The clouds are full of rain today, they can’t but overflow.

*

The clouds are full of rain today, they can’t but overflow.

Yet, thoughtlessly, I’m unprepared. I have no shield, my head is bared.

I should have known the days of sun could not survive the year near done.

The clouds are full of rain today, they can’t but overflow.

*

The clouds are full of rain today, they can’t but overflow.

A drizzling patter is first to fall, a soft, slow moan to my heart calls.

Then, growing stronger, beating down rain wets my face and paints my frown.

The clouds are full of rain today, they can’t but overflow.

*

My heart is full of pain today, it can’t but overflow.

My sighing soul, weighed down by grief, for coming loss but not in chief.

More heavy is the grief of world torn up by storm, and hate, and words.

My heart is full of pain today, it can’t but overflow.

*

My heart is full of pain today, it can’t but overflow.

I read lament and misery. I reel from wrath, so stark to see.

I can’t embrace the angry claim, and yet I know the truth of shame.

My heart is full of pain today, it can’t but overflow.

*

My heart is full of pain today, it can’t but overflow.

How can my God of love require a pain that makes all hope expire?

Or nearly so, until, undressed, I see it grows from faithfulness.

Not faith I make, but must receive and finally rest in full reprieve.

My heart is full of pain and hope, it can’t but overflow.

*

My faith will rise anew each day, a gift from Light who cannot fail

So I must look beyond the clouds, must trust in grace to tear the shroud;

The sun and Son now just concealed. The world, my heart, will both be healed.

My faith will rise anew each day, a gift from Light who cannot fail.