31 Days of Writing As Worship

My legs curled under me, a cup of coffee in hand, I watch the girls, my little people, playing with little people—everyone from Cinderella to unidentified farmer—listening to Bryan come down the hall, bleary-eyed from his late-shift job.

“I have an announcement.” deep pause. “I am quitting poetry.” Bryan shuffles to the kitchen for his coffee, as i go into whatever reasons I have that month. “What do you think?” I conclude.

“Probably time for you to take a week off”

And he is inevitably right.  I’ve only given up on writing probably five (or a dozen) times, especially since becoming a mom.

It would be really convenient to quit. i wouldn’t have that sort of twisted stomach feeling when i haven’t written in a long time, I wouldn’t forget to do the dishes and laundry every now and then in the evenings, when I’m wrapped up in a poem. i wouldn’t have to fish for an answer to “why write something no one reads?”

But I find myself there, again and again, in that flow state of writing, in the deep of it. so this month I’m taking on a writing challenge -

31 Days
a writing challenge every october, every day

31  Days

Each day this month Bryan and I are going to blog about writing as worship. Bryan is a songwriter, and I am a poet (see bio), so hopefully between the two of us we can give you some varied perspective.100_8405

Because why write? publication isn’t enough of a reason—I’ve published in literary magazines and an entire book, and I’d still give up on writing if that was the only reason. getting noticed—well, I write poetry, so that isn’t why either.

I write because when I write I feel like I am doing exactly what I was made to do, what God created me to do. and that is worshipping him—his creation creating, mirroring our maker, using writing as a spiritual discipline. And I think any christian, no matter how much or how little they feel that God has gifted them, can use some form of writing to deepen their relationship with their Maker.

I hope you will follow along this month as Bryan and I delve into writing as worship!

{below you will be able to read posts as the month progresses}

Day 1. On Growing Up as a Writer in the Church
Day 2. What is Worship? (Part 1)
Day 3. What is Worship? (Part 2)
Day 4. Writing Exercise: Defining Worship
Day 5. True Worship
Day 6. But I CAN’T Write!
Day 7. Defining “writing” as a Spiritual Discipline
Day 8. Writing Exercise: Just a Note
Day 9. Writing Your Story
Day 10. Writing Exercise: Writing Your Testimony
Day 11. Writing the Praise Psalms of Your Day
Day 12. Writing Exercise: The Praise Psalm
Day 13…. (more coming soon!)

~

And if you are taking the 31day challenge, please share a link to your blog in the comments!

Notes from the Delivery Room by Linda Pastan

Strapped down,
victim in an old comic book,
I have been here before,
this place where pain winces
off the walls
like too bright light.
Bear down a doctor says,
foreman to sweating laborer,
but this work, this forcing
of one life from another
is something that I signed for
at a moment when I would have signed anything.
Babies should grow in fields;
common as beets or turnips
they should be picked and held
root end up, soil spilling
from between their toes—
and how much easier it would be later,
returning them to earth.
Bear up … bear down … the audience
grows restive, and I’m a new magician
who can’t produce the rabbit
from my swollen hat.
She’s crowning, someone says,
but there is no one royal here,
just me, quite barefoot,
greeting my barefoot child.

Three

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dancing ballet, obviously!

Goldilocks, ladybug girl, my three year old, you are easy-going, a sweet quiet-spirit, a peace-maker and nurturer. You bring so much joy and laughter to our home! The day we brought you home from the hospital, to the falling-down rental farmhouse, lonely in the pastures, I sat on the bed, laid you down, looked at your smallness. your daddy fell asleep on the couch in the living room, and you started crying, and I was terrified. Before you, I’d only held a baby once or twice, a minute or two. Before you, I’d never changed a diaper, made a bottle, bathed a baby. Then I became your mommy and changed forever. How have I possibly been entrusted with such sweetness? I can’t help but feel like Moses at the burning bush, telling God I can’t do this and him telling me that I don’t have to, that He will. I pray always that God will make me able to shepherd you, to love you like He loves you, to teach you of his love for you. I’m thankful that I’ve been given the gift of raising you, and I’m happy to celebrate you, funny little blondie—with your story-telling and ballet dancing, dimples and delicate hands. Let’s eat cake!

book notes: september

514otHirdPL Still: A Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner
the prose style of this book was lovely—much like anne lammott. Winner writes about the deep inner workings of her faith after her marriage falls apart. The book is in three sections, often with short little tidbit chapters, generously quoting theologians, saints, other authors, stringing together metaphor. I enjoyed the crafted, artistic elements. i wouldn’t though read this as a devotional type book or one you are looking to for advice—but only as a poetic memoir-style book

 

 

 

 

 

51U2x2CuptLGrace-Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel
ah, this book was so good! It isn’t primarily written for parents of toddlers, but I think parents of children at any age could benefit from reading this book. it gave bryan and I some ideas on how we’ll approach topics that will likely come up later with raising our children (modesty, tattoos, etc). it helped me to understand more about the way I was raised and what the results of that parenting style was in my life. Kimmel writes about allowing your children to be vulnerable, candid, and different, to make mistakes. Kimmel begins by giving profiles of common types of family/parenting styles and how those ways can harm children as they grow up. he then gives us the three deepest needs of every child (a secure love, a significant purpose, a strong hope), and how as parents we can meet those needs. The book outlines what it means to be a grace-based home, with examples and anti-examples of grace. I learned so much from reading this book. some things bryan and I were already doing with our girls, but it did inspire us to create a sort of game-plan for dealing with issues that will come up in the future.

 

519dIBQX6QLThe Nesting Place by Myquillan Smith
I expected this book to be more of a list of DIY decorating projects—happily, my expectations went unmet. Smith doesn’t just give you a fish, she teaches you to fish (or, well, decorate!). Even better, she approaches it from a Christ-centered perspective, as an art that serves your family and glorifies God. after reading her book, I feel inspired to decorate my home and to tackle projects I was too afraid to try because I might “mess them up”. one of the key tenants of her book is to be happy with what you have, where you are—no waiting for the perfect house or until you can perfectly tile the bathroom floor, or else you’ll never love what you have, you’ll never try. I also especially loved how this book was written by a mom on a budget—she was relatable, not your typical Martha Stewart with tons of money to throw around, and she creates beautiful spaces with her specific family’s needs in mind. So, if you feel a little lost when trying to decorate or just want some inspiration for putting decorating in perspective, read this book.

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So, what should I read next? What are you reading?

for burning

In The Nesting Place Myquillan Smith writes that candles are one of those things you can find at thriftstores almost pristine, for cheap, because Americans never burn their candles. Looking around my own house, I see it’s true. Aside from a couple nice ones my sister gave me to light when we have company coming over and a child recently pooped, my candles were largely untouched.

What am I saving them for?

In our home, I often find things I’m saving for later. The wedding china for the fancy dinners we never have. The date night idea book for when we have time for date nights. The little bag of toys for the trip we’ll take one day.

Saving Pinterest boardsSONY DSC full of recipes I’m too intimidated to try, saving book ideas for the theoretical future of when I’ll have time to really write, saving fun trips and adventures for when the kids are older and easier to handle.

Sometimes season of life will mean that there are things that have to be put on hold for a while—no month-long sojourns across Europe or writing residencies or bi-weekly pilates classes are possible for me right now, with my husband working nights and my babies young and finances tight.

But saving things isn’t about what you aren’t able to do right now, but what you are holding back due to fear of trying, fear of imperfection, fear of not having enough, or of others rejecting what you offer. Which are all really a desire for control—what will people think of you if you try and don’t succeed? If you start that novel now and it takes you ten years to write? if it isn’t any good, doesn’t sell?

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Cast Your Bread upon the Waters – Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 (ESV)

11 Cast your bread upon the waters,
    for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
    for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
If the clouds are full of rain,
    they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
    in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow,
    and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb[a] of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Shortly after bryan and I became members of our current church, I was scheduled to work nursery. I heard from the hallway the woman I was to work with referring to me as “the pregnant girl” (I was–largely!). Watching the kids, I tried to make some small talk, get to know her some, and she stopped me short–“we’re moving in a couple of months so we’re not making new friends right now.”

I can’t help but contrast her with my friend Missy; her husband and mine attended many of the same seminary classes. She has a naturally open, bubbly personality, and I do not and wanted nothing to do with seminary wives–why bother, we’d scatter to the winds in a couple of years, everyone leaving for their appointed ministries?

I am so glad that she bothered–I learned a lot from her in those couple short years of friendship at the seminary; I’m grateful she didn’t decide that it wasn’t worth the time, because I wouldn’t have learned as much about hospitality, homemaking and ministry if it wasn’t for my friendship with her.

Hoarding our gifts, talents, material blessings, friendship or even conversation, doesn’t show people who God is. God doesn’t hold back with us—we are given extravagant love, forgiveness, grace.

The temptation is to hold back part of ourselves—to not reveal our struggles at mom’s group because we don’t know how they’ll be received. To not share our artwork with the world because we don’t know what the critics will say. To not let the world, a rampaging toddler, play tea party with our fine china.

But God has not given us a spirit of fear! And our Maker makes all broken things unbroken.

A candle isn’t any good sitting there with the wick unlit, just a hunk of wax gathering dust. Offer up your body, your talents, your dreams, all of your nice things.

Burn through them. Because when you do, there’s light.

unless the lord builds the house

the bookcase was on top of her, propped up partially by a chair it had fallen on. She was in the chair, a shelf over her neck, motionless. My husband had just left the room, and our youngest was asleep, and I had just run up to work for a couple hours.

When he heard the crash, he ran back into the room, lifted it off her, checked to see if she was fine. Thank God, she was—the bookcase she had decided to climb, to get her “favorite book” from the top shelf, was lightweight and had mostly dvds in the middle.  She was a little shaken up, like we were, but fine. Not seriously injured or dead, like she could have been. 
I’d seen those articles that float around facebook from time to time about securing your furniture to the wall, but I’d never done it. I always thought that since we’re pretty  much with the girls 24/7, this would never happen. But it did. Despite all of our vigilance and care, she still got hurt. 
Even after securing those shelves to the wall though, what other million things are there in a home, even a baby-proofed home, that a toddler can hurt or kill herself on? I’m a mom, so I can pretty much spot 100 things that can kill a baby in a room at a glance.  
Not to mention the scary world outside the room, and the home—sometimes raising girls feels likes being the mother of Gretel or Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks—tender little things skipping through the dark, wolf and witch and monster ridden forest.
Last week, I was reading the Psalms and came across this chapter:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127

I’m familiar with that first verse in the second stanza—“children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward”—what mother hasn’t heard that, and tried to remember it when the kids are screaming and covered with crusty whats-it and sleep is little and disciplining the children is lots.

But I had never paid much mind to the first half of the poem. The first half can’t be divorced from the second though—good poets don’t arbitrarily pair stanzas together, they are meant to be read in relation to each other, and in the order they are written in. I don’t think it is too wild to interpret the first half in relation to the second—to see it as, also, about raising up children.

No matter how hard I work to raise up my kids, feed them good food, educate them, clothe them, play with them—unless God builds my house, I labor for nothing.

No matter how much I babyproof, no matter how many bookshelves I nail securely to the wall, unless the Lord watches over my house, I stay awake in vain.
 
No matter how much I work and worry, no matter how many hours I stay up late to get the floor mopped and breakfast prepped for the morning, no matter how many mornings I wake up at the crack of dawn to take care of the baby who loves to wake up before the sun, all of this is for nothing, it is vanity, unless I am resting in the Lord’s promises to take care of us.
“He gives to his beloved sleep” – what a promise! Of course God knows a promise involving sleep will woo any hard-headed parent of little ones.  

Not only do I not have to worry that my children’s ultimate safety, well-being, education, health, etc, all depend on my performance, my intelligence, my self-sacrifice and mommy-awesomeness, God reminds us in the second stanza that we aren’t rewarded when our children are the best kids in the class or make it to adulthood perfect, we are rewarded by the fact that we have children.

They are the reward. We are living with that reward right now, spit-up stained shirts, messy-ponytails and all.