Thursday, December 26, 2013

Adopted, chosen and redeemed

This is the second of two poems on adoption that I wrote for my creative writing class this fall.

Adopted, Chosen and Redeemed

Life chosen and redeemed,
Rescued from hardship, neglect, or danger.
Though starting off we were strangers
Forever Family now we’re deemed.

Your life began within another
Whose love brought you to earth.
In due time, she gave you birth,
But she’s not the one you call Mother.

Having love was not enough
To feed, clothe, house, protect you.
Giving you up, though right to do,
Mentally, physically, emotionally rough.

We wanted children, one or two,
But we weren’t naturally blessed with any.
Private adoption cost pretty penny,
So foster-to-adopt is how we got you.

It was December, barren, cold,
 Crying, hungry, our first boy.
Sally there to share the joy,
When C arrived, just three weeks old.

M  was born two Novembers later
Making C a proud big brother.
We decided not to take another;
Their bond is sealed, what could be greater?

Visits, hearings, process trying,
All attempts to end the strife.
Judge Woodcock ruled each boy’s life
Be spent with us, with love undying.

Adoption is life chosen, redeemed,
Rescued from hardship, neglect, or danger.
Though starting off we were strangers

Forever Family now we’re deemed.

This is a long one

This is a long one.

For two weeks we have been contending with winter and poor health. A ten-inch snowstorm was followed a week later by an ice storm. During that time, I missed one whole day and two half-days of work due to acute bronchitis, the effects of which are not yet completely gone. On Monday afternoon, as I prepared to leave work and was scraping the ice off my car, I ended up with a spider-web cracked back window and a hole the size of a football in said window. A generous coworker picked me up at my house on Tuesday morning (it was definitely out of her way to do so). Later, I was talking with a student that had been shoveling the sidewalk when the window broke and he was asking about the situation. I mentioned that my home was also without electricity. He was sympathetic, which was nice. But it was also a chance to say that I believed that God was watching out for my family and that He would provide whatever we needed. The young man expressed appreciation for my outlook.

As my coworker drove me back to town, I called my brother-in-law to ask his advice (as a homebuilder, he tends to have good ideas!) on making sure our pipes wouldn't freeze as the temp was expected to drop below zero that night. He said that he had a kerosene heater that we could use, and he took the time out of his day to get it out of his barn, clean it up, and get it ready for us. He agreed to bring it to the Christmas Eve service at our church and give it to us then.

My coworker dropped me off at the church, as it was in her neighborhood, and Laurel and the boys picked me up there a few minutes later. In the meantime, I had called my folks to see how they were doing and to let them know what was going on with us. We ran some errands (lunch, a haircut for me, a couple of last-minute items for Christmas) and then went home to get ready for the service.

By the time we were ready to go, both my folks and my sister's family had offered to let us spend the night at their respective homes to stay warm. When we got to the church early for rehearsal, conversations there led to similar offers from the pastor's family and an elder's family. We also learned of several other church families that were without electricity. One couple offered to let me pick up kerosene from their home after the service to use with my brother-in-law's heater.

The service was simple, but beautiful. The special music was soul-stirring. The sermon was short, but powerful in reminding us that our Savior was born to die that we might live, that He became poor that we might receive Him and be rich. My heart still swells with joy at the love of God for His people, and I am so grateful that He has made me His own!

After the service, another man in the church offered us the use of a small generator (brand new, still in the box, he said) to power our furnace, so that we would at least stay warm. He said he'd provide gas for it, too, to save me the trouble of getting some, as my gas can is inside a shed I can't access just now (door frozen to ground). My brother-in-law offered to bring it to us and hook it up, as our furnace is hard-wired and would need a handyman to connect it safely (and I'm no handyman). We agreed that this was a better solution than the space heater, especially since it would help the whole house.

All the arrangements were made. He would pick up the generator and other necessary supplies and come to our house later. The elder that offered us a place to stay would call and check on us to see if we would be coming that night or if we'd want to go to their home on Christmas. The boys were exhausted and needed sleep. We still had presents to wrap, of course.

As we drove into our town, I suddenly noticed that some homes had lights where darkness had held sway earlier. Then, about a mile from the house, we saw a utility truck, with men hard at work. Hope began to rise in our hearts. Alas, it was still dark on our stretch, so I parked the car carefully to allow room for my brother-in-law and me to get the necessary supplies to the house to set up the generator.

We went into the house, where Laurel promptly put the boys to bed in their sleeping bags. I stayed downstairs in the candlelight, trying to clear a space for my brother-in-law to work. The elder called to see what our plans were. I thanked him, as I had thanked my folks, my pastor, and my sister, and said that we would stay in our own home for the night, but promised I would call again if our plans changed.

I also called the power company to try to find out approximately when our electricity might be on again. The woman with whom I spoke was very gracious. As I gave her my name and address she said, “Oh!”
She was about to say that the problem that affected us had taken out 1,000 customers in one fell swoop. However, as she spoke, I interrupted. “Oh! Our power is on!” I got off the phone and went upstairs, where I told Laurel and the boys that the power really was on; it wasn’t the generator. They prayed and thanked God for that. I called my brother-in-law, who had gone home for some parts before picking up the generator, and told him he could spend Christmas Eve with his family.

My heart was already filled with thanksgiving to God for who He is and for what He has done for my family and for me, but this really showcased so much of how He has provided for us. His grace was at work through the generosity of so many people, and then He provided the power itself to restore what we really needed.

We are called to obey. We are called to walk by faith and to trust in His goodness. Walking by faith in these circumstances this week seemed to involve trying to solve our problems with the knowledge of how life works and with the wisdom God has promised to give us. Triple-A got my car home on Monday (too far to drive with too great a likelihood of having tiny shards of glass all over the back seat of my car), and Geico will send Safelite to my home next Monday to replace the broken window.  I asked for help, and friends and family responded.   

Asking for help involves humility and grace. The kindness of strangers, family and friends were demonstrations of grace. Contentment with or giving thanks in all circumstances is a command of God, and yet He also provides the means of obedience. I was tempted to complain, but a colleague pointed out on Tuesday that I have a full-time job now, and as difficult or as challenging as this situation seems, I have the financial means to deal with it that I did not have a year ago! The more I thought about his words, the more I started thanking God for each means of grace in this situation.

God is good. God has been good to us. God is being good to us, and God will continue to be good to us. That’s who He is. It is not based on my faithfulness to Him, as I have none apart from His grace. It is based in His character and His love.

I have much to thank God for. This week’s little twists and turns have proven to be a microcosm of God’s faithfulness, goodness and love for us. In a bigger picture, the provision of full time employment in a position that matches my gifts and skills is an answer to prayer that took more than a day or two to work out. The same steps of trust and faith were required, though the process was longer than getting heat and electricity back in the house. More than that, however, is all the circumstances of life and God’s provision in every single one. Godly parents and upbringing, godly and loving wife, faithful pastors and churches, discipleship in Christ, children, family, friends, coworkers—every situation and every life intertwined are in the hands of our good, faithful, loving, holy God. I cannot imagine a better place to be than that.


My heart is bursting with gratitude for such a wondrous love from the God Who Provides. Thank you, Lord. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The search is over

I've been hired as GED-Prep teacher at the youth development center where I've been subbing for the last two years. Eventually, I 'll be working with juveniles and young adults. Praise the Lord!

Adoption

My professor wanted me to write a poem about being an adoptive father.Here is the first of two.

Adoption

Our eager expectation lost,
We mourned with the mournful.
Trying, waiting, nothing gained.
Others’ quivers filled plentiful,
We tried rejoicing with the joyful.
Bitter envy knocked, tears streamed,
Was having children just a dream?

“Foster-to-adopt takes courage.
Children placed and moved,
Bonds forged and broken.”
Was it how we should proceed?
Doors opened, we went, with no regret.

DHHS trained us for the worst,
Yet we hoped for the best.
Invasive home studies, cautioning tales.
Water tests, deck rails, window changed.
Not yet approved, we still waited.

Pregnant pauses notwithstanding,
One phone call changed everything:
“We have a boy, three weeks old.
Would you like him?”
We were bold. “Yes, what time?”
“We will bring him in early evening.”

Unlike others, no nine-month warning,
We needed a crib, bedding, food, clothing!
Bosses accommodated, friends assisted.
In the evening, we were holding
a little boy who’d be our own.

Visits, hearings, all the process,
Attempt to reunify—
An unwanted recess.
Three weeks later he came home,
Truly never more to roam.

Adoption hearing with the judge:
”C is yours until you’re dead.
Be good to him, now Mom and Dad,
Provide for, love and cherish him,
Forever family. Rejoice. Be glad.”


We overflow with gratitude
That we have this treasured son.
To gain another two years later,
Adopting two who were so young.
This is our little, joyful brood.

WMacD
11/13/2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Interview

The Interview

 Take a deep breath, relax, and think happy thoughts—Picture yourself on a beach somewhere.
Advice is plentiful. The giver is a paramedic, perhaps I should obey.
Okay. Let’s do this. You can do this. Get a grip.
You’re here for the interview, right? Well, I don’t know what time you were told—
What time I was told? 10:30. It’s only 10:20 now. Did I miss it?
But what I have listed for you doesn’t match that.
I figure it’ll be at least 15 to 20 minutes. If you want to go back to your class, I’ll do an all-call for you.
No, thanks, I never hear them. I’ll just wait here.
My heart is thumping in my chest, climbing into my throat.
Since you’re already an employee here, I don’t think you’ll need to give us your fingerprints.
Well, that’s a relief. Part time for two years has some perks, then. Do I get out of training, too?
Way to pick the interview time just before lunch, man.
Hunger AND nerves; what a combo. At least there’s nothing to smell here but plants and plastic chairs.
Sit. Wait. Listen to office gossip.
Not enough small talk to bridge the gap. Waiting. Waiting.
Mr. MacDonald? I apologize for the wait. Would you come this way, please?
The greeting feels odd, forced, disingenuous somehow. It’s all for show.
Why did she just call this a formality?
These same people interviewed me two years ago; I’ve been working with them.
Thirty minutes later, I’m out the door.
How did it go? When will they tell you?
Really well, I guess. They said I’d know in a few weeks.
What’s for lunch?

MP UB

9/30/13

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thawing chosen?

I don't know how familiar you are with Protestant denominations, but Presbyterians are often referred to as "the frozen chosen," and their church services feature few, if any, audibles outside of group readings or songs. On the other hand, Charismatics (often, but not only Pentecostals), are known for demonstrative speech and action during services. 
In keeping with those descriptions, I often feel as though I am a Presbyterian with a Charismatic trapped inside; I struggle to find the words to express with intensity and clarity what I am thinking. I let slip the actual and proverbial "Amen!" from time to time when I manage to break free from my frozenness, both literally and literarily. However, all too often I just feel trapped.

It’s one thing to feel like I’m a Charismatic trapped in a Presbyterian’s body. It’s quite another thing to know that I’m a Presbyterian and I’m trapped in a Charismatic church.
            Going to church is something that I do on a regular basis. I was raised in the church, as they say, with my attendance expected at the weekly prayer meeting, Sunday school, and morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day. Our religious exercise was to participate faithfully in the “life of the church.” I was taught the Bible from my earliest days, and my parents practiced what they preached. Sundays were reserved “for the Lord,” and no unnecessary work or leisure was undertaken on that day. 
            As I grew and matured, I took greater pleasure in going to church, but I increasingly felt stifled. My heart soared on the wings of eagles, but visible and physical expression of religious fervor was frowned upon in the Presbyterian church; that kind of behavior was only done by Pentecostals and some Baptists. No raising of hands in worship or saying a hearty “A-men!” for me. No, sir. Just the steady four-four beat of hymns, with silent, stoic faces during the preaching.
            During my college years in the South, I found some freedom. I discovered that some Presbyterians acted more like Pentecostals in worship. They clapped as they sang to the beat of drums, electronic piano and electric guitars. They offered “A-men!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Preach it!” when so moved by the Spirit. The preacher even encouraged such exclamations and on one occasion he acknowledged that some of us might come from church traditions that made this a foreign experience: “I am sure that some of you sit there all quiet on the outside, but on the inside you’re ‘A-menning’ all over the place!”
            With time, I overcame my hesitations and learned to speak up. Timid at first, I was soon hollerin’ with the best of ‘em. Well, it felt like I was hollering. I was probably speaking just above a whisper, but I could tell my inner Charismatic was being unleashed from its Presbyterian shell!
            A number of years later, I was back in my home church, working for a local Christian school as the headmaster. One of my responsibilities was to visit area churches to talk about the school and try to get people to enroll their children there. I had matured a bit from my rambunctiously religious youth, but still considered myself something of a closet Charismatic, the more gracious name given to exuberant congregations in Christendom. In reality, though, I had really become something of a square in public circles, not wanting to offend prospective families by exhibiting pretentious religious airs.
            Several years into my position at the school, I gained entrance to a Charismatic church not far from the school. I knew that an older couple from my home church had been attending evening services there owing to the close proximity to their home and to their increasingly limited mobility. When the wife had passed away, the pastor of the Charismatic church had attended her memorial service, and I had met him there. A couple of families from his church attended the school where I worked, so I was glad to make an official visit on behalf of the school. What I got was an education.
            I sat near the front so that when I was called upon I could make my way to the podium quickly, deliver my presentation, and be a visible reminder of who I was and why I was there. I shouldn’t have. I should have found a place in the back, near the door, where I could monitor my display or pack up and run as soon as necessary.
            Much of the music was unfamiliar to me, though they did manage to sing one or two choruses of something I knew. The Bible passage that was read for the sermon was familiar, too, and I was eager to hear what the preacher would say about it. As he spoke, he quickly became animated and excited. He began to thump the pulpit with his hand, emphasizing the glory of the Lord with each bang. His voice rose in pitch and volume and I began to sense he was reaching his point.
            Suddenly, he called out, “lsmfpaoijopbarllduboarar! Hallelujah!” and shuddered. “Glory be to God on high! Glory be to God on high! Hallelujah!” Right then and there, I knew I had heard a man who believed he was speaking in tongues, which is about as Charismatic as a fellow can get. I felt very Presbyterian from that moment to the end of the service.
            I don’t remember much else from that point on, besides the men and women all around me calling out, “Hallelujah! Thank you, Je-sus! GlorybetoGodonhigh!” and so on. The preacher went on and completed his message, but for the life of me, I don’t know what he said.
            After the service, a friend from the congregation approached me. “So, what did you think of our services? Have you ever heard someone speak in tongues before? I bet that’s a new experience for you!”
            “It, uh, was a nice service. And you’re right, I’ve never heard anyone speak in tongues before.” I’m totally freaked out and ready to get out of here, if you really want to know, but I have a job to do.
            “So, what did you think? You must’ve thought the preacher was going crazy or something.”
            “Uh, no, I kind of figured out what was going on. Um… .” Keep your voice level and don’t betray your concerns for what happened here today.
            “What did you think of it?”
            “Well, to be honest with you, it was a bit unsettling.” That was the understatement of the year. “Unsettling” was right on; “a bit” really should have been “tremendously.” How to say that to this friend, though?
            “I bet it was! I wish I could’ve seen the look on your face at that moment. Ha! I bet they don’t do that at your Presbyterian church, do they?”
            “Yeah, it would’ve been quite a sight, I think. And you’re right, speaking in tongues is not done at Presbyterian churches.” If you do it there, you’d better have an interpreter handy, or you’ll get tossed out on your ear.
            “Why not? Don’t you believe in speaking in tongues?”
            “Well, uh, speaking in tongues is not really part of our worship services because we believe that when a person speaks in tongues publicly someone else needs to interpret it right away. I, uh, was expecting someone to stand up and, uh, interpret what the pastor said this morning. Did you know what he was saying?” I’m ready to pack up my stuff and be on my way.
            “I see. No, I just know he does that sort of thing all the time. You never know when the Spirit’s gonna move, you know. Hey, Pastor! Come on over here! He’s never heard anyone speak in tongues before.”
            “Hello, Pastor. Thank you for inviting me here today.” Is my fake smile fooling you?
            “You’re welcome. Glad to have you with us. I remember meeting you at that funeral last year. So you go to the Presbyterian church, huh? Is it a lot different from ours?”
            Different? Yeah, like a different planet, Pastor. “Eh, you could say that. I mean, we believe the same basics about how to be a Christian and all that, but some practices are different. “ Let’s not have a big theological discussion right now, okay?
            “No speaking in tongues, right? Well, you believe in that ‘once saved, always saved’ stuff, right? Go forward to the altar once and never have to think about obedience to God again?”
            “Nope, no tongues. And we’d really call it the ‘preservation of the saints’, not really ‘once saved, always saved.’ If there’s no evidence that some has repented from sin and turned to Christ then that’s not really ‘saved,’ right? Please, can we stop this theological discussion? It’s a really long road we’re headed down, and I’m becoming less of a Charismatic-trapped-in-a-Presbyterian-body all the time! Oh, good, someone else wants your attention.
            “Well, thanks for coming. You’re doing good work at the school. Keep it up!”
            “Thanks, Pastor. Take care.”

            “You, too. Good-bye.”

A mixed bag

This was part of my assignment this week for class. We were to read some excerpts from "The Poet's Companion, " by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, and then quote portions of the excerpts, with our comments following. Enjoy. Or don't. 
MP UB 
“Images may be literal: the red kitchen chair in a dim corner of the room; the gritty wet sand under her bare feet.  Or they may be figurative, departing from the actual and stating or implying a comparison: the chair, red and shiny as fingernail polish; the armies of sand grains advancing across the wood floor of the beach house.”

I am grateful to learn that there is a defined difference in images. At the same time, however, I am stretched to the breaking point as I search for words to describe what I see in my mind’s eye—memories and images tensed, ready to explode.  All too often, I cannot find the words I need or want, and I am paralyzed with frustration, sinking into despair to express what fills my soul or overwhelms my mind with a flood of beauty, joy, or sentimentality.

“We all have our favorite sense.  If you ask several people to describe coffee, one person might describe its smell, another its color, another its taste or the sound of beans being ground.  Poets need to keep all five senses—and possibly a few more—on continual alert, ready to translate the world through their bodies, to reinvent it in language.”

I did some stupid things as a kid. Growing up in the country, it was not uncommon to be called upon to bury roadkill in the woods, especially cats and skunks. I did not consider myself to be a hick or bumpkin; no overalls and bare feet for me, although I often chewed on timothy hay. Still, when an especially large relative of Pepe le Pew was the victim of vehicular-assisted suicide on the road near my house one day, my friends and I engaged in a game of dodge-car, daring one another to kneel down by the deceased to sniff it. Boys are known for doing gross things, probing beyond society’s bounds of acceptable behavior. I won the dare; I put my nose on the polecat and caught a full whiff of its ode-de-get-away-from-me. The prize? I received the privilege of carrying the dead creature to the woods with a shovel and giving it a proper send-off, complete with “a few words”. “Good-bye, Stinky, we hardly knew ya. Thanks for not spraying us on the porch the other night when we brought the cat food in.”

“The more you practice with imagery—recording it in as much vivid detail as you can—the more likely it is that your poetry will become an experience for the reader, rather than simply talk about an experience.”

This is the challenge, is it not? This is the brick wall that I hit so frequently, as mentioned above. You want me to be expressive, descriptive, image-invoking? Let me speak! Let me showwant to make you laughI want you to experiencejoy with me. want you to delight in the brilliance of the sun bursting through dark clouds behind me on my morning commute, spilling glorious golden beams over the empty, gray road, onto the violent hues of red and orange of the forests around me, the lush green fields quivering with excitement for the advent of day.  

Man, have I got a lot to learn, or what?