footsteps in the dark

Several years ago, I was laying in bed, trying to fall asleep. It was late, almost morning, when I heard it.

Well, I think I heard it. What sounded like a footstep in my room. My door was barely closed, and with my back turned to the noise, I imagined all sorts of scenarios as to what caused the noise. Or what was possibly standing over my bed, behind me.

I was probably reading a little too much Stephen King at the time, but I wrote this the next day. It’s Halloween, so I figured I’d share it.

Happy Halloween Reformation Day!

who is it i hear

inside my closed door?

soft fall of a step

on carpeted floor.

ever so closer,

what does It search for?

gladly i know not,

but know in my core,

the It in my room

has been here before.

tonight it has come

at quarter past four

and stands by my bed,

a creature of lore,

some hairy monster

or hunchbacked igor.

my back turned, i feel

cold eyes as they bore,

willing me to turn,

but still i ignore

and with bated breath

silently implore:

“go away! i wish

you’d come back no more!”

is the It still there?

 

               could you

               would you

               open the door

               a little bit more?

 

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what will your verse be?

My brother and I have probably watched Mrs. Doubtfire over a hundred times. We had a VHS copy of the movie and would always pop it in and enjoy Robin Williams as he entertained us. His name was synonymous with comedy, and he brought an electric energy to the screen, whether it was in the flesh as in Jumanji, Hook, and Good Will Hunting, or as an animated Genie in Aladdin.

One of the movies that impacted me most in high school was Dead Poet’s Society. It revealed how a teacher could inspire students, and reminded me how poetry and literature aren’t empirical categories, but the natural and necessary result of being human. That “words and ideas can change the world!”

And it left me with the question, “What will your verse be?”

 

Rest in Peace, Mr. Williams. O Captain! My Captain! Your legacy lives on.

your hand in mine

It wasn’t my first time through a haunted house.

It was Halloween weekend and some friends and I had decided to visit a local scare house, one that promised to scare our socks off, if we followed the course, of course. We walked past caged monsters and shrieking zombies, mummies with searching arms and mazes determined to separate our pack. It was enough for a few yelps, jumps, and spooks, but nothing that truly frightened us; it was more the stuff of “Goosebumps” and less the stuff of nightmares. But the exhibits did succeed in dividing our group of friends so that after a while, I found myself with one other person, unsure of where everyone else was.

Then we saw it: the door that led out into the crisp October night sky. We hurriedly walked toward the door, certain that we were in the clear, when we both suddenly jumped in surprise. A deranged, bloody farmer wielding a chainsaw walked menacingly toward us, chainsaw loudly buzzing. And as soon as our feet landed back on the ground, her hand reached out and found mine.

And the world fell away and the scene popped into focus with electric clarity.

It was the most natural thing, to reach out and find a hand of safety in a moment of fear, but in that moment, it was as if a jolt ran through me. It was as if there were explosions in the sky. I hardly noticed anything else; the only thing I cared about was saving my friend from the maniac farmer. I shielded her from his threatening advances (and may have back-handed him with my left fist) and we rushed into the safety of the open night. As we rejoined our friends, I let go of her hand, but still clutched onto the memory. I’ve never been able to let it go.

It’s a memory that has resurfaced from time to time simply because of how vivid it was. Her hand in mine. My hand in hers. Instinct displayed in the most innocent form. You don’t want to face fear alone.

I’ve been re-reading some Sherlock Holmes and found in a brilliant piece of prose that Watson experienced something similar:

“Miss Morstan and I stood together, and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is love, for here were we two, who had never seen each other before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought for each other. I have marvelled at it since, but at the time it seemed the most natural thing that I should go out to her so, and, as she has often told me, there was in her also the instinct to turn to me for comfort and protection. So we stood hand in hand like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us.”

— John Watson, “The Sign of the Four” (written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

There is something so basic about looking to someone else in a moment of crisis, in a time of trepidation. We instinctively know there is strength in numbers, and two is better than one, but more than that, there is the silent acknowledgement, “I’m with you on this. We’re facing this together.” There is solace knowing that someone else is there.

I was able to protect my friend from a masked actor in a haunted house, and in a display of chivalry, could probably protect her from a host of other physical things that threatened her. Watson was able to offer comfort and protection to Mary Morstan in light of her father’s death and the strange mysteries behind it. And when I get married, I hope to guard my wife’s heart and keep her safe and comforted to the best of my ability. But if I’m honest, there are many terrors where my cold and clammy hands would provide little help because “the dark things that surround” are often more than just physical fears. Sin, death, depression, anxiety, a broken past, guilt, all these and more are shadows that stand menacingly over us, things which we often have no power over. My comfort and my protection have their limits, and as much as I try, I make a shoddy savior. So where do we turn in our fear?

In the midst of the dark things that surround, what do we grasp?

God the Father, who promised from the beginning that he would never leave us or forsake us, sent his Son Jesus to the earth so that the dark things could be overcome and shown to have no power. Jesus overcame temptation in the midst of his weakness, cast out demons from the afflicted, and even conquered Death by being raised back to life. This Jesus, who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), is our source of comfort and hope, our God victorious. He who faced suffering and death for our sake promises that he is trustworthy and in control. We can rest in his shadow because he makes the shadows of darkness disappear. We have the promise that we can turn to him and not be disappointed, and so when fears assail and tragedy strikes, we can slip our hand in his.
We don’t have to face fear alone.

We never face anything alone.

the Story of stories

I learned to read at a fairly early age. Between Sesame Street and my mom, I began recognizing letters and words before I entered Kindergarten. We didn’t have any of the normal children’s books around the house; I cut my teeth on the pages of Scripture. While most kids were making their way through Dr. Seuss and The Little Engine That Could, my parents had me read stories in the Bible like Abraham offering Isaac up to God as a sacrifice and David killing Goliath. Between many “thees” and “thous”, and a horifically long time in Leviticus,  they were my first reading lessons, my bedtime stories and the lessons I heard week in and week out in Sunday School.

Although I understood that the Bible was one book composed of 66 books and countless stories, I wasn’t quite told how all the stories seemed to fit together. I viewed it as a collection of stories (true stories!) with morals. They were stories that ultimately showed us how to live rightly and serve God better.

  • God asks Abraham to offer his only son, the son God had promised him in his old age, as a sacrifice to show Abraham’s commitment to God. Abraham is willing and obeys, but God prevents Abraham from slaying Isaac by providing a ram to take Isaac’s place. Moral of the story: be willing to sacrifice anything for God like Abraham.
  • The Philistine giant Goliath taunts the Israelite army, and no one is brave enough to fight him. Shepherd boy David finds out what the fuss is about and goes out to battle Goliath, not with sword and shield, but with his staff, sling and five smooth stones. Young David kills Goliath, the Israelites oust the Philistines and David eventually becomes king. Moral of the story: be courageous like David and you can slay the giants in your life.

I learned all the morals of the stories of the Bible and thus tried to model my life off the specific stories that were in them, and that is how I was taught to view them. What I did was turn the Bible into a sort of Aesop’s Fables. The Bible was primarily a book on how to live life. I became a really good moralist, trying to model my life after the examples in Scripture of what to and not to do, trying to thus ensure my acceptance by God and His love.

And I missed the big picture, the greater Story that God is telling us through His revealed Word.

God created everything, and it was good: the heavens, the earth, the entire cosmos. He created man and woman to rule over creation and to live in relationship with Him, but they rebelled against His one rule, and it fractured everything. Sin, death and a broken relationship with God were the consequences of this rebellion and became our inheritance. Everything was broken and the Bible is the story of how God has been  relentlessly pursuing sinful people and restoring relationship with them (us) and repairing everything that was broken. God did this by sending His Son Jesus to earth, and in His life, death and resurrection, everything broken is being made right; this is the big picture, the greater Story that God is telling us through His revealed Word. And every story points to this Story.

  • The story of Abraham and Isaac isn’t just about one man’s willingness to sacrifice the most precious thing in his life. It points to a Father who was willing to sacrifice His one and only Son and let Him die. There was no ram; Jesus actually died. It is a story that shows how deep the Father’s love for us is.
  • The story of David and Goliath isn’t mainly about a young boy that courageously slays a giant. It points to a desperately weak people who need an overwhelmingly great savior to overcome an overwhelmingly great enemy. It is the story of how God sent a Deliverer at the right time to rescue His people from this enemy of sin and death.

When we see the Bible this way, as one Grand Story, we see the heart of a loving, redeeming God who is after us, after our heart, not begrudging obedience. We see that there is a cohesiveness to Scripture that points to a Grand Storyteller.

And we see that we’re not the center of this Story. Jesus is.

Leben Lane

there is a house that sits on the end of Leben Lane
a triple-tiered behemoth atop the hill on Leben Lane
long lay the house in ruin and decay
empty and forlorn for not a one would stay
the sacred cannot be found on this part of the lane
but the unholy traverse, celebrating the profane

careful, my dear
careful, my dear
you mustn’t get too near

where specters sing unholy songs and witches dine with priests
where angels and devils join for tea and saints and sinners have feasts
through It’s broken eyes you can see them dance
floating and gliding in a languid trance
goblins and ghouls singing heinous hymns outright;
a million voices ringing through the house, echoing through the night

careful, my dear
careful, my dear
you mustn’t get too near

there is a house that sits on the end of Leben Lane
a temple where prayers and crying never wane
and in the witching way of things sublime
the house on Leben transcends space and time
jerking souls to seek penance for sins unwanted
baby, its more than houses that are haunted

careful, my dear
careful, my dear
you mustn’t get too near

there Love defined

Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, “A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote.”

there Love defined

 

a curious day ’twas today
that found desire and drive allayed!
the earth lay washed in amber tones,
the air hung thick, heavy with storm
and as men oft do in such times
i gazed into the cloudy sky
to calculate the mystery
of life, death, and eternity
and as i mused the mystery
i saw an angel by the tree
“why do you look for answers here?
seek Love,” he said, and disappeared

 

set out, did i, to find such Love,
yet tales and myth were not enough
as dross, i flung what i had found,
resolved that Love was not around
i scoffed the fable men did trust
while bastioned doubt became my trust.
fierce nimbus bore above my walls
and rain so sinister did fall;
high did the water rise before
i found my circumstances poor;
so feebly struggled i against
the overwhelming current spent

 

then certain of my wretched fate,
i ceased, to let death have its way,
when through the murky waters cut
a hand that reached beyond my heart
into a place unknown and cold,
lifted me up beyond the flood.
and suddenly i found there land
there bathed in warm and piercing sun
where touched the hand, there burned a flame
so searing and beyond known pain
yet pleasant was it all the while,
and coursing joy replaced the vile

 

a wondrous sight my eyes beheld
a sight too beautiful to tell
a peace unknown o’ertook my mind
for there it was, there Love defined

the writer’s block

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

I don’t think I ever read a story about a little engine that could, a little engine that pushed itself forward with positive thinking. Did you ever read that story? But it’s so ingrained in our minds and culture. It’s the unofficial mantra/slogan for the “Don’t Give Up, You Can Do It!” Campaign.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

But truthfully, doesn’t it sometimes seem like you can’t? If at first you don’t succeed, why bother again?

Failure is a bitter horse pill to swallow. So we don’t continue on and do the things we would want to do, like take on a career/major, start up a company, ask a girl out, or witness Christ to an unbeliever. We don’t even have to fail at something to not attempt it; it’s the fear of failure that immobilizes us.

Sometimes, however, we’re forced to press on. When I was in middle school (and high school too), I seem to remember having to write many papers and essays and short answer questions. We would have to write papers for English class, and sometimes even for the standardized tests, like TAAS and TAKS. One of the sections had a writing component, so we would have to write a composition (2-3 pages) on the given prompt. Prompts like, “Write about a time you learned a lesson from someone you admire.” Or it would be the AP Economics test with a free-response question like, “Explain the mechanism by which an increase in net investment will cause long-run aggregate supply to change.” I think the people who come up with these tests really enjoy writing these questions/prompts.

I would write away, and write fairly well. But sometimes, I would get to the middle of a paragraph or a thought or a point… and I didn’t know where to go from there. I mean, how much can you write about a movie that taught you a valuable lesson on ethics?  But I had to finish it! My grade was on the line! So let me tell you what I did two or three times: I would let my handwriting get kind of sloppy, like I was getting tired or sleepy, and then I kind of scribbled things that looked like they might be words but were unintelligible. I would do that for a line or two and then finish off the paragraph or jump right back in with another thought. I hoped that the rest of my writing and the rest of my points would carry the paper and the grader would assume that what I had scribbled was something equally impressive and legitimate.

I’ll admit, not some of my proudest moments. But in that twisted reasoning, I knew that if I could just get over one hurdle, I could do it, I could finish strong. I was not going to let this apparent roadblock slow me down. I was not going to admit failure.

I’m not saying we should bend the rules or do something underhanded in order to move forward. History is full of examples of men and women that tried to cheat the system to success. And History calls these people frauds, fakes, and criminals.

But there is the idea of not letting a lull in creativity slow you down. In that moment, you work out and flex your other creative muscles.

There’s an idea that’s been tickling the back of my mind lately, an idea to write a story. Not a novel, and not something to litter the Best Sellers shelf. But a story non-the-less, and a story in parts. I’ve already written how writing let’s me understand me. Maybe that sounds out there and too hippie, but it jives in my head. The thing is, I’ve already started several stories in my life. Sometimes I’ll get a paragraph in, sometimes I travel along for several chapters. But then I get stuck or I don’t know how to finish it, or some other problem will loom. And I’ll leave it there, a young sapling that never gets to see its limbs rise to the sky in brilliant maturity.

I’m not sure why the story idea is coming to me now. I don’t even know what it’s about fully, or how it will end, or even the middle. A big part of me doesn’t want to put the pen to the paper because I know my track record of finishing these things. I know I can’t just scribble something unintelligible when I don’t know where to take the story. Part of me fears writing it and then hating it. And a tiny part of me is screaming, “I think I can? I know I can!”

And so I think I’ll begin this literary venture, not sure of where I’ll end up, if I’ll finish it, or what the result will be. But I don’t want it to collect dust with the other what if?’s of my past.

Sure, we all get a bit of writer’s block in life. Life likes to throw us curveballs and sliders and quicker-than-you-can-blink fastballs. Do you stand by and stare at them dolefully, pitying your woeful batting average? Or do you step up to the plate and swing with all you got?

As long as you’re at bat, the balls will keep coming. Sooner or later, bat and ball are bound to connect.

And as long as you keep trying, you’ll get past your own writer’s block.