29 January 2009

Broken and Beautiful: The Damoff's Story

I could not have planned a better time to read Parting the Waters, by Jeanne Damoff.

Lately, I have been examining the effects of decay upon my particularly occupied patch in this universe (I assure you that as a melancholy, this comes quite naturally) and find myself now on the cusp of drinking deeply and refreshingly of the divine nature that tempers the world's decay. (As a contemplative, I relish the opportunity to bask in the beautiful good.)

Parting the Waters illuminates the notion that decay and divine work in tandem, complimenting one another, providing a teamwork approach to leading us into deeper understanding of God. But we have to be open to looking for it, expecting God to show Himself.
Jeanne's story starts at an end. The end of her eldest son, Jacob. Or Jacob-as-he-was, rather.
At 15 years old, his near drowning and subsequent brain injuries thrust Jeanne and her family into the murky waters of doubt and trust. It held them under, gasping for breath.

This was the end of easy faith.
The end of a pretty, gift-wrapped theology.
The end of passing familiarity with the God of widows and orphans.

I cried in almost every chapter of this book. Jeanne's accounts of the Divine reaching His hand through to her broken, breaking and suffocating family... words fail to describe the rush in my heart to read His acts of goodwill toward them. The God of widows and orphans met them in the doorway of their pain. He drew them near, got down on His knee and looked them in the eye as He tenderly ministered to their wounded hearts. And in the case of Jacob, his wounded body. Real hands, audible voices, wet tears- visible and tangible ministrations surrounded the Damoffs. God was moving through His people.

I cried when Jacob's body was revived. When Jacob made his first voluntary movement. The first time he laughed. I cried at his silent weeping as music moved his soul. When doctors and family saw small signs that he is still "in there." When Jacob said, "Mom."
I cried when he walked. When he got on a horse. I cried that he could eat a bowl of cereal. When his quiet presence ministered to others - just his being there with them- I teared up.
When he quipped, "Shoot me now!" Yep, I even cried at that point. (It was hysterical and thrilling to my mother's heart to see his quirky personality bubble back up to the surface. I have quirky kids of my own, Jeanne, so I delighted with you over this. Why just say "Ow" when you can holler "Shoot me now!" The effect is much more grand.)

Jacob Damoff, a young man who's outside appears a picture of decay and loss, reveals that the God who breathed life into Him is not finished glorifying Himself through him. The Divine in the Decayed.

Yeah, I was a mess from all the beauty. A beautiful mess. Which is a darned good way to be, I think.

One special touch that I am immensely enjoying are the personal accounts of many who have been impacted by Jacob's accident and the years since. This was not an isolated story, just for Jeanne to tell. It affected mother, father, husband and wife, sister and brother, best friends, pastors, school teachers, doctors, physical therapists, park rangers, students and complete strangers. Reading their own words of how God has met them intimately through Jacob's drowning knits my heart to this small arm of the Bride of Christ. Through them all, I know the God of orphans and widows better today.

Thank you George, Grace and Luke, in particular, for articulating how God has hovered attentively over your lives. Someday, that Great Someday, when Jacob's body might better cooperate with his will, I would love to hear Jacob himself tell how the Lord has hovered over him all these years. I bet I'll cry then too.

Now that I'm at the end of this book, I'm asking myself the question,
"These things our flesh understands and defines as decay- broken bodies, broken spirits, broken relationships- could they really be instead, the Divine breaking through to reach in and release us from our decay? Is it possible that decay might be a part of salvation?"


Above the book title are the words, "A True Story." This really did happen (and still is happening) to the Damoffs.
It's also A Truth Story. It's happening to all of us. Decay, wrapped in all it's losses, fears and pains, sets the stage perfectly for us to thrill at the climax of our faith story- God, the beautiful Divine.

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27 January 2009

Splintered: Willow Tree

Our backyard is residence to a pair of lovely weeping willow trees.

Shopping for a new home nearly 4 years ago, my pulse quickened as I spied the mature, green giants waving in the spring breeze. Weeping willows are my favorites, hands down.

Part mobile- with each and every sinuous branch fluttering and flowing on the tickling wind.
Part sculpture- with those solid trunks sliding into the earth, embracing soil, rock and mineral. Supporting their own weight and grounding them firmly into their base, they are sculpture in the round.
Part watercolor- in the Spring, new leaves sneak out in shades of chartreuse and lemon. Wispy, soft and dream-like. I constantly want to bring a book down the hill to visit the dappled shade and kick off my shoes.
Part impressionist painting- Like a pleasant childhood memory, I'm never quite able to nail down where the leaves come from, or even when. How did they manage to burst onto the scene when I thought I'd been watching so carefully? And in the Fall... well, the leaves are just suddenly gone. (Perhaps I only had the impression the leaves were there?)

In winter though- oh the Winter!- the boughs and limbs take such a beating. Neighbors tell me we've had a couple of icier years than normal. Snow is not a problem, it's the ice rain. As beautiful as it is to see each individual twig encased in a crystalline sheath, our weeping willows simply cannot hold the weight.

We lost ten thigh-sized limbs last year. Already two this winter. I cry inside to watch the weeping boughs I love so much snap beneath their burden.
They're calling for freezing rain tonight.

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Busted: The Blue Vacuum

I'm not sure why I took a photo of the guts of our broken vacuum. Perhaps I sensed a pattern when it tanked just hours after the Santa episode.

Plastic shrapnel and acrid burning wire.
It was like a scene from an appliance war movie. Frightened villagers running for cover and all that.

The Blue Vacuum was not fancy. Steve and I bought it with gift monies from our wedding. We bought what we could afford, which wasn't much, but it was sufficient to suck up whatever found its way to the carpet of our tiny first apartment. Then the second apartment. And then our townhouse.
Then we got a couple of cats (and the fur and dander that goes with them.) The Blue Vacuum still held its own.
We had a baby. Then we had another baby. We moved into a house and doubled the square footage required of The Blue Vacuum.
And then had another baby.

Cheerios, cat fur, mud clumps, grass clippings, dead bugs, soon-to-be-dead bugs, an accidental shoelace or two, the edges of the rug (also accidental), and sometimes even it's own cord: The Blue Vacuum sucked it all with vim and vigor.

Then one day in December, 13 years later, it met entropy in a big way.

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16 January 2009

Broken: Santa

SoulPerSuit's latest mini-group is examining the contrast between "decay" and "divine".

Our first creative thought-provoker is to take a photo of one thing in our life that is decaying. One thing?! Just one?!

(We joke that we ought to name our home "Entropy Estates" because of all that seems to fall apart around here.)

This is the Santa salt dough ornament I made in first grade, 1978. I distinctly remember painting his face yellow because it was the closest color to "skin tone" I could find in the elementary school paint tray. For 30 years this guy has hung near the top of our Christmas tree- first, in my parents' home, and when I got married, in my own home. I was very careful to keep Santa far away from little hands that might be overly zealous with tree decorating.

But then along came a three-year old...

I have to admit that I did not handle Santa's breakage like a sanctified mother. My spirit of Christmas shattered when Santa shattered.

Because I am broken as well.

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13 January 2009

Retrospective into the Future

All of these artworks were built in 2008 by one artist

Interpreting the relationship between man and nature

Articulating a space

Defining an area

Combining found natural elements of moss and stone

Wildflower and fallen tree

Exploring a theme

Building a monument

The pleasure of raw ingredients in the hand

Potential unveiled

Stretching a medium to it's limit

Working to understand the elements

Contemplating the Next

(She most certainly did get Andy Goldsworthy's River and Tides for Christmas.)

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04 January 2009

Lavish Incense

The Kings brought frankincense gifts to lay at the feet of the Christ child. Our prayers go up before the throne of God like sweet, burning incense. Yahweh, himself, specified the ingredients and uses for incense in temple worship. Something about that smell...

Tapped from trees in much the same way we obtain amber or even maple syrup, frankincense has been used for centuries in the middle east.
Unlike our pampered and tendered maple trees on a Vermont orchard however, the Botswellia trees that frankincense is drawn from are scraggly. Hardy. Windblown. Some grow in such harsh environs that they appear to sprout directly from the rock- bare roots clamped around anchoring boulders against the elements.

A picture of life outside of a garden.

Life outside of The Garden.

The frankincense is drawn by piercing or wounding the bark of the tree to cause the sap to rise and fill the fresh wound. The resulting hardened resin is referred to as tears.
Tears developed from wounding.
Wounding a tree that perilously clings to life outside The Garden.


These tears are what God wanted to smell always in his Temple. Generation after generation. These tears are what the wise kings carried as gifts to our young Emmanuel.
These same tears are how the Lord describes our prayers. Carried. Offered. Lifted up in worship. Something about that smell...


* The Agony in the Garden, Hans Leonhard Schaufelein, 1516
Lime panel, Munich

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