Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Lesson

     My Dad used to give us a lot of chores to do.  Picking apples perched on extension ladders, pulling weeds, picking rocks, shoveling snow, butchering chickens, stacking wood, and taking out the compost.  That is only the short list.  We did not like it.  We bulked, we sulked, we dawdled and drug our feet with the dramatic expertise only a child can display in the face of good old-fashioned work.  For me, there was nothing more dreaded than the stomach churning threat of forced time in the corn field picking rocks or pulling weeds.  That hung over my head all summer, heavier than the oppressive cloud of mid-August humidity.  Banished to the buzzing heat in worn-out sneakers and mismatched clothes from some hand-me-down bag, I would come up with a lengthy list of fun things I could be doing, while convincing myself I was the only girl in the world, except my sister, stuck in a field doing the two-handed yank of quackgrass and topping dandelions that were bound to haunt me with their regular reappearance forever.   There was no getting out of it.  Weed pulling and rock picking were my parent's favorite method of diffusing negative attitudes and yanking out rebellion by the roots.  

     As a child I felt the sting of punishment, but what I didn't see was that God was also using those moments to actively teach me deeper life lessons.  The ones He knew I would need for the rest of my life.  Those sweltering summer days in the corn field clanking stones into an old backhoe bucket or finger-numbing mornings bracing myself and shovel against drifted banks of snow were part of my physical preparation for the challenges and obstacles of life.  Training my body, mind, and heart to lay down physical connections to my soul so I would have a infrastructure of active coping mechanisms when things around me appeared out of whack. 

     My Dad never caved to murmured complaints or allowed us to drag our sneakers in defiance on the gravelly driveway.  He appreciated the value of simple labor when it came to developing perseverance, curbing fear, and clearing room for new growth.  He made certain that the seeds were planted in our minds and hearts even if the shoots of that did not take off until years later.  Like my Dad, I think God does the same thing.  He points us in the right direction, and goes about setting us to certain tasks designed to teach us.  He challenges us to stretch and grow and asks us to take on simple tasks we sometimes find meaningless and repetitive. As adults we can find ourselves guilty of reverting to dragging our feet and balking at what our Heavenly Father sets us to.  However, if we get our bodies committed to the tried and true method of simple physical labor we can discover our minds and hearts will follow suit. As an adult, I love pulling weeds.  There is nothing more satisfactorily simple than a vigorous session of yank and pull while talking to God about whatever negativity is trying to lodge itself inside me.  The physical act of pulling and tugging helps aligns my mind to take over easing it out of my heart. 

     I am so thankful for the lessons God taught me through my parents and life on a small farm.  As a parent I am amazed at how many simple opportunities God gives us to teach our children about Him and coping with life.  Some of those lessons require stretching out of our comfort zone and are hidden from view.  However, if we look back at our own childhoods, we can find lessons designed by Him to mirror the challenges encountered in everyday life.  Simple tasks like weed pulling, shoveling snow, washing dishes, sweeping, and gardening can be turned into life lessons for our children to carry through their walk with Him.  They are tried and true methods of teaching them active, physical ways to connect to God with heart and mind while working out the internal kinks that are bound to cramp things up along the way.  Let us not neglect to teach our children some simple ways to remove obstacles, listen, alter their perspectives, and count their blessings.

The Lesson

I told you to climb.
Did you catch sight of it?
Clenching the ladder
With fear-narrowed eyes
I set it for you
At the very end of the branch
Under dense cover
So fingertip faith
Learned to hold tightly
Before grasping the prize.

I sent you for it.
Were you able to find it?
Chewing stranded hair
As spinning wheels jammed
I placed it there
On the other side of the vice
Next to the grinder
So developing minds 
Learned to carefully listen
Before picking up the hammer.

I made you go out.
Could you finish the task?
Huffing mumbled clouds
Against drifted icy banks
I sent them for you 
Along the rutted trail
Down the bank
So stubborn hearts 
Learned how to dig out
Before carving new paths.

I pointed you to them.
Were you able to pull?
Squatting in the dirt
With rising summer-baked ire
I put them there for you
In between tender shoots
Strangling vital life
So rooted hurt
Learned to clear obstacles
Before harvesting the fruit.

I told you to do it.
Could you finish the task?
Brushing splintery debris
With achingly numbed fingers
I dumped it there for you
On the icy concrete slab
Amidst dismal pelting sleet
So bound hardening hearts
Learned to thaw and melt
Before pouring out love.

I called you to it.
Did you find them?
Reaching into smarting spaces
Swiping hands across stained cheeks
I grew them for you.
Scattered in tangled brambles
Hidden from view
So busy hands
Learned to alter perspectives
Before counting their blessings.

Shaunda M. Eck

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Distant Connections

     There is a faded blue barn board cabinet standing in our dining room that holds a sentimental collection of odds and ends.  The only value it has is the graceful significance that we've attached to it as symbolic reminders of the loves in our lives we've lost tangible connections with.  The door is cleverly constructed from an old single-paned window that I like to think of as a transparent shield keeping its glassy inhabitants safe from swinging labrador tails and inquisitive young explorers.  It also strikes me as a crude looking glass that lets light shine across memories, obstacles in love we've overcome, and life lessons from people we learned to be grateful for because, in one way our another, they solidified our connections with each other and God.  Together we've felt our share of splinters wedged into our hearts and have also removed a fair share of them from curious fingers roaming across the rough surface of that cabinet. 
     Connections.  We need them.  We seek to protect and maintain our relationships with each other. Who we are is woven into a relational pattern with others before we are born .

 ~For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. ~
Psalm 139:13
     God weaves us together as a connected group of people to hem us in, keep us from flying away in stormy winds, and provide shelter for us.  He does not intend for us to make it on our own and He understands our relational human hearts are vulnerable.  He also knows they can start to unravel or come apart at the seams when our connections are severed.  Have you ever felt that way?  I have.  I've felt the splinters of loss wedge themselves so deep into the vulnerable softness of my heart that I desperately cried out against it.  There have been moments I struggled and wrestled with the age old question of "WHY?" through hot stormy tears.  Some of the painful disconnections I had to accept left me feeling like the knitting of myself was unraveling in multiple directions all at once.  Recently I had a season of life that asked me to cross over the territory of some scarred over wounds I did not want to look at again.  However when I stopped arguing with God about it and paused long enough to listen, I could hear Him whispering to my heart, "Let me be your connection."  I am also certain because He knew me, He planned ahead for it by blessing me with some strong comforting allies who knew how to hold onto me when I was sitting in the middle of an emotional wipe-out.  On the other side of that storm, I've been able to reflect upon what I was being asked to learn.

     When we find ourselves stranded in hopeless moments brought on by the loss of our tangible connections with loved ones, He hurts for us and with us.  He wants us to let Him get close enough to remove splinters, wipe tears, and breath in new life.  All He needs us to do is ASK for help.  When the ax of time and distance expertly tries to sever our connections, His promise of eternal life stands the test of time and holds us together.  He reminds us that everything and everyone we have to let go of and commit to His care for a season will be kept safe.

~For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruler, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.~
Romans 8:38
    I wrote Distant Connections as a sort of love song and reminder that no matter how many connects or disconnects I am asked to endure, God alone is the true source of everything I need.  It was a cry and a prayer asking Him to be there for me through it all no matter who comes in and out of my life.  I felt it expressed the needs and empty places we feel inside ourselves and how we all want to be loved.   I needed to reconnect with the fact that even though human connections are an essential part of God's design for my life, He is the center cord holding it all together.  He patiently reminded me that no one can or should take the place of my relationship with Him.  I also was reminded that He alone is able to weave all of our frayed, unraveled, and severed connections back together for us even if those connections feel hopelessly distant.  There is peace in the knowledge that there is still beauty on the other side of what we cannot see through the looking glass.  God will keep our fragile connections safe even when we can't seem to get beyond the splintery roughness of life.

 Distant Connections

When joyful
Flaming hearts dance
Leaping from grounded shells
Soaring above thinning clouds,

Release them.

When sorrowful
Streaming eyes drain
Flowing from compressed hearts
Coursing into oceanic spaces,

Open floodgates.

When grateful
Teeming cells overflow
Washing through every channel
Rippling blessings outward,

Return them.

When seeking
fevered dreams venture
Resounding against inner shadows
Widening reduced perspectives,

Join the hunt.

When productive
Thirsting hands weave
Connecting loosened fibers
Yielding abundant harvests,

Create more. 

When weary
Wavering souls fight
Pressing into dreary minds
Claiming space to dwell,

Fight for them. 

When silent
Torrential words cease
Calming turbulent cores
Delivering tranquil times,

Recharge again.

When afraid
Wayward feet slip
Unsettling precarious beams
Teetering on fragile lines,

Hold fast.

When broken
Heaving chests cave
Starving life from burdened lungs
Smothering raging fires,

Breathe in. 

When triumphant
Ringing voices clear
Freeing prisoned ears
Harmonizing predestined tunes,

Sing with them.

Shaunda M. Eck 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Snow Globes & Plastic Bubbles: Why I Write

     Do you remember those red vending machines that used to be at the front of every grocery store, drug store, and restaurant?  The ones brimming full of those plastic bubble encapsulated treasures we used to covet as kids?  In went our hoarded pennies, nickels, and dimes, and out popped a handful of kaleidoscopic sugar or some prize we would carry around with us for a day until it was broken or lost in the haste of running off on a new adventure.  The plastic bubbles were dropped, accidentally stepped on, or tossed in the trash by our mothers when they were cleaning house.

     Our lives are full of plastic bubble moments that fade quickly or get left behind in the chaos of running forward.  While we speed forward through one season of life into another, tackling school, jobs, marriage, and family, we travel across a land strewn with plastic bubbles.  In plastic bubble land, moments, people, and words get tossed out, casually overused, and cheapened.  So why do we write at all or bother with putting our two-cents into the massive ever growing word machine in e-space?  Possibly we are still holding onto more than plastic bubbles with child-like hope and praying that every once in a blue moon some breath taking beauty will take shape and pop out instead.  Something more like a snow globe.

     You see, our lives also contain definitive sparkly moments we cherish just like one of those snow globes our mothers would pull out of boxes before Christmas and then place upon a shelf or windowsill where it could be kept safely away from inquisitive chubby hands.  My mother had one she kept in her bedroom.  I relished the feel of stealing away from chaos and chores into the forbidden territory on tip-toe so I could sit on her tidy bed in the tranquil coolness, twist the knob underneath, and listen to a dreamy tune while I breathlessly watched sparkly bits float and drift around the scene illuminated by the starry, stranded lights outside her snowy window.  It not only gave me a moment to breathe, but the time also connected me with my hopes and dreams for the future with the eyes of a child.  We all have moments in time, people, and places we cherish in our hearts like this.  Every now and again we need to unpack our memories, brush the dust off, and shake them around so we can keep in touch with ourselves and listen to the tune of an older season gone by.

Where do I begin?
     However, as we mature, we realize we will have to navigate and negotiate through a vast ocean of memories and moments.  Precious time slips through our hands like sand slipping through an hourglass and sometimes we find it necessary to choose what we will hold onto and what we will let go of as we are swept forward.  Knowledge comes at us in short bursts and long painful climbs.  Along the way our collection multiplies, tucked away for safe keeping in the hallowed halls of our hearts and memorial chambers of our mind.   We will more than likely come across places in time that we discover we must pause and clean house to make room for growth and lighten our load.  A daunting task, we can struggle with knowing where to begin sorting through it all.  Somewhere in the middle of our messes God patiently shows us what to let go of and what to hold onto.  We eventually learn to see the difference between cheap plastic bubbles and cherished snow globes.

Ingenious artwork by Camryn Forrest Designs

      I've been writing ever since I was a little girl.  As an adult my childhood love has become more than a hobby.  It is a link to Jesus, the cornerstone of my life, as well as a personal touchstone.  Most of the time I write to vent out whatever gets trapped inside the spaces within so it doesn't stay bottled up, bobbing up and down uselessly inside of some restless ocean in my heart.  Other moments I write for the delight of holding onto lovely snow globes in my own life.  It challenges me to cough up my two-cents while it gives me a chance to steal away for those slower moments in a usually hectic life, much like I used to do as a child.  Writing has given me a way to reflect upon lessons of the past and who God is calling me to become.  My life, as yours, has been littered and blessed with collected moments I have needed to clear out or have another look at.  I pray you are able to enjoy all of the moments of your life and whatever they have in store for you.  I hope that here you may find a word or two that helps you navigate through your own world of plastic bubbles and cherished snow globes.

~Shaunda M. Eck~

Out of Exile: Breathing New Life Into Old Words

     I pulled the scrappy draft of this poem out of exile recently.  It was tucked away in an old photo album from a lifetime ago.  Our children helped me take and choose some photos of different antiques around our home to add to my poetry.  They have been having as much fun with photography as I am having breathing life back into old words.

     Antiques remind me of people.  Both have acquired their share of battle scars along the way.  Some are beaten in roughly from neglect or abuse, while other marks leave tactile etchings of life and the seasoned maturity we define as character.   Their flaws and grooves ask you to cherish and love them smoother with patience.  Much like seasoned hearts, they reach out for a new safe harbor,  a place they are once again at home in. 


How did it become so floydian,
Desperately scratching surfaces
Of antique, hollow spaces
Housed within safety-wired shells?

What began the narrow defining
Of weary travellers and trains
Bouncing off collected scraps
Of impenetrable armor?

When will the viewing of
Scarlet trails be made clear
Through shards of salty glass
Relinquished fearfully into steel vices?

Why spark the embarkation
From the confines of squared matrixes
Only to drag affectionate fraility
Around silent bulwarks of a labyrinth?

~Shaunda Eck~