25 April 2012

in the air this morning

In the air this morning was that warm lushness.

That lusciousness.

That divine breath.

That promise of rain later on—gentle rain, not the bitter, biting rain that drives you inside, away from reminders of your own discomfort.

In the air this morning was that light touch {a glancing sensation akin to fingers ghosting over the skin} that feels very much like God has surrounded you.

Has enveloped you.

Has sighed around you.

In the air this morning was the memory of God breathing life into every little thing.

Even into me.

23 April 2012

sigh no more. also, happy birthday, shakespeare!

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had the kind of English teacher Garrison Keillor might write a sketch about for A Prairie Home Companion.

She seemed to have been inhabiting that room in the English wing of Burlington High School since before it was even built. In fact, they might have brought her over from the old high school; standing at the chalkboard and diagramming a sentence, she probably didn't even notice when they moved her from the red brick building on top of a hill overlooking downtown.

Back in the late 1960s, the town decided it was time for a new, modern high school and so they built one out of a bland, creamy-colored brick: two stories and sprawling, but none of the classrooms had windows, oddly enough.

There was room to grow, though, out in the newer part of town, away from the train tracks that had brought Burlington so much power, away from the river that had brought Burlington so much beauty, away from the factories that had brought Burlington so much stability.

So the new high school with no classroom windows {maybe sunlight while learning damages the brain?} was where I found myself learning about Julius Caesar and Huckleberry Finn and how to properly construct an essay, although I would've rather been learning all that in the old high school, which looks like this:
Doesn't a building like that just embody girls in full skirts and boys in letterman jackets carrying those girls' books as they walk to the pep rally?

It does for me, although how I got to talking about full skirts is beyond me. My sophomore English teacher would probably mark up this bordering-on-stream-of-consciousness piece writing with her bright red pen: Fragment! Run-on sentence! Confusing!

But she probably isn't going to mark this up, partially because it's very difficult to mark things up on the Internet and partially because she may still be standing in that room at BHS waving around a copy of Julius Caesar and shouting, "Oh, the symbolism of it all! And what do you think, students, of his hubris? Why isn't anyone answering me?" {The "answering" would be sung out, a high-low melody as she looked at the class over her glasses, the classic English teacher move.}

I'm thinking of her today because it's William Shakespeare's birthday, and do you know what she did every year on Shakespeare's birthday? She wore a t-shirt with his face on it and would proudly point at her chest at the beginning of class and say, "Today, we celebrate him!"

And then most everyone would avert their eyes—this is when windows in the classroom would've come in handy—because who wants to look at your English teacher's chest?

Especially when it has a picture of a dead guy with funny hair on it, who, it seems, was very good at writing plays that high schoolers would love to mutilate for centuries to come. You can count on a 15-year-old to suck all the life, romance, daring, heft, challenge, and poetry out of Shakespeare when they're forced to read aloud in class.

They'll say, "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well, Horatio" as if there were no punctuation in there: AlaspoorYorickIknewhimwellHoratio. And then they'll sigh. And roll their eyes. And make a half-hearted attempt to push their hair out of their eyes. And make a side snide comment about the depressed guy talking to a skull. Creeeeeeeepy.

Then, about 10 years later, they'll voluntarily go to a production of Hamlet* and wonder why their English teacher didn't teach them this version—this exciting, moving, and sometimes terrifying version of intrigue and delusion. Why did they have to do all that boring reading? Didn't their teacher know how amazing Shakespeare's words are?

Of course she knew. English teachers always know; mine certainly did, as evidenced by her t-shirt.

In tribute to my sophomore English teacher—and, of course, in tribute to dear Will—here's a passage from one of my favorite Shakespeare plays: Much Ado About Nothing. Please read this with an English accent. Please do not read this as if you were 15 and weirded out by your English teacher's t-shirt.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no moe,
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy:
Then sigh not so, & c.

* This experience—this going to a play 10 years later and being astounded that Shakespeare is so good—is not my experience at all. My parents took me to a Shakespeare festival for the first time when I was 9. I had an eraser when I was in 8th grade that said "Out, out, damned spot!" In middle school, I went to nerd camp to study Shakespeare with a college professor.

Why am I telling you all this? Is it to cement, in case you were concerned, my English major nerdiness? Is it to try to convince you that I was ridiculously smart and you should, therefore, be intimidated? Is it to try to make you imagine me as a 15-year-old, rolling my eyes at my teacher, as I tried to blend in with the other kids, even though I really wanted to say, "Yes, I do see the symbolism"?

No, I tell you all this merely as a precursor to this: I also had a William Shakespeare t-shirt, and I kind of wish I still had it so that I could've worn it today.

19 April 2012

in the right light {a poem}

Next to the train tracks
that lead away from here
is a vacant lot
with a slight slope down
as if the ground itself
is poised
to hop the next train.

Straggly grass
Bare dirt
And a bunch of dandelions that are now
nothing but white fluff waiting
to be blown away from here:
the lot is not a place
you want to stay.

But when the pink of the morning sun
slips over the lot—
light so gentle you want to wrap yourself in it—


the dandelions become reminders to enjoy the beauty of the Every Day,
the bare dirt is about the earthiness of Possibility
the straggly grass is looking for Order.

In the right light, everywhere looks
like somewhere you want to be.

17 April 2012

happy tax day

I am the daughter of two accountants, and so I believe that Tax Day should be its own capitalized sort of holiday.

It would be celebrated with confetti made from tax forms and a very detailed cake that would look like an adding machine. It would be a chocolate cake, of course, and the accountants could feel as gleeful as accountants can feel* as they ate all those numbers.

Perhaps there could be a pinata that looks like a spacey client who can't find all her forms and forgot to sign on the dotted line even though there was a very obvious Post-it Note arrow pointing at the line and screaming: SIGN HERE.

The punch would probably be very, very spiked.


When I was a little girl, I once told my parents, "I hate taxis."

Being a child from a medium-sized town in Iowa with very few taxis, this was not a normal thing for me to say. I could hate the fish that tickled my toes when I swam in the Mississippi or I could hate it when there was a long line at the Dairy Queen—things very much in my experience—but to hate taxis seemed out of place.

They asked a few probing questions, trying to figure out what my little brain was trying to communicate, and they finally pulled it out of me: I hated tax season.

I was still working on my ability to separate words, apparently, and classify the world in recognizable chunks. Every time my parents talked about tax season:
Daddy has to work on Saturday because it's tax season.

We'll go on vacation after tax season.

Here comes tax season!
What I heard was:
Daddy has to work on Saturday because it's taxis.

We'll go on vacation after taxis.

Here comes taxis!
And so I hated taxis.

Further adding to my confusion: I spent many hours at my parents' office, playing with/eating the rubber cement, writing Important Things on a not-needed typewriter, being told not to mess with the files, etc.

And I noticed, in all those hours, that my dad had a little rolly-thing, much like a piece of plywood on wheels, that he used to move stacks of tax returns up to his office, where he would, I assumed, cover them in rubber cement and type up Important Things to put in them.

I watched him wheel the cart and say things like, "I love tax season!" and my childlike logic told me this: That cart has something to do with taxis. WAIT. That cart could be—I really think it is—it has to be a taxi!

I hated that cart and all that it implied.

And yet when it wasn't tax season and that cart wasn't as needed, I was allowed to play on it. My sister would pull me from one end of the office to the other, and in those moments, I loved the cart and taxis.

It was a rough time for me until I figured out that:
  • Taxis are actually cars that you ride in when you're in big cities. You should love taxis, especially when your feet are tired.
  • Careening on a cart is not the most dignified office behavior.
  • Tax season was a necessary evil if I wanted to go on vacation.


Happy Tax Day! I hope you've prepared the confetti and punch for your accountant. They deserve it. They probably also deserve a ride in a taxi.

*I have to put in this asterisked note after even suggesting that accountants are not gleeful people. They get a pretty bad rap as the dull bean counters of the world, which sounds more like a name that should be applied to soybean farmers. I have never seen my parents count beans, but I can vouch—and back it up with many stories—that they do not fit the stereotype of accountants. They are not dull; my mother has a tattoo, for Pete's sake, and my dad once took my very pregnant mother to Canada with plans to hitchhike and backpack in the Canadian Rockies, which, I don't think, was top on my mother's list of things to do while about to give birth. No, they're not dull people at all.

16 April 2012

without coffee

My coffee machine looked at me forlornly this morning.

You ask: With what eyes?

Oh, I know it has no eyes, but it has a little green light that comes on when it's brewing, and today, the first day in ages and ages I haven't turned it on, my coffee machine looked at me with a cold, calculated, unlit-up glare.

That's a change from forlornly, and I should stop before my coffee machine takes on a murderous glare and starts thinking about brewing me hemlock.

Why such discussion of the feelings of a machine? Have I stepped into some sort of dystopia where the machines are plotting to take us over—by manipulating our feelings?

Thank heavens, no.

But two of my co-workers challenged me to give up coffee for the day—for just one day—because they think I'm addicted. When you write it all down, it may look like I'm addicted.

Kamiah's Daily Coffee Consumption: All Written Down
  • 2-3 cups in the early morning: I drink this while sitting with Little Pug in the reading/journalling/writing/chewing on a rawhide bone {Little Pug's activity} nook.
  • 2ish cups in the office when I first get in
  • double shot of espresso around 10:30 or 11:00: Especially since I got my Anne of Green Gables espresso cup, I'm all for this tradition. The key to work is to break up your day with Anne of Green Gables and coffee.
  • double shot of espresso around 2:30 or 3:00: A recent addition, but please see previous note about getting through the work day.
And that's it, I promise.

Except for when I meet people for coffee in the evenings or have them over for dinner. And except for when it's raining and blustery out and a pot of coffee sounds just about right. Or when there's just a hint of chill in the air and I want to sit out on the balcony.

So it's a lot of coffee, but I've always said this: I'm not addicted to the coffee; I'm addicted to the ritual. Even my sidenote up there about drinking out of an Anne of Green Gables cup should tell you that I am a creature of habit, and I love nothing so much as the feel of a mug in my hands as I anticipate the first sip.

But not being one to back down from a challenge, I agreed to go coffee-less for today, and that is why my coffee machine looked at me forlornly this morning: because I was ignoring it.

Here it is, many, many hours later, and I don't have a headache, I'm not cranky, and I don't have the shakes.

But I do miss my rituals. In a vain effort to fill my ritual-need, I drank water out of my Anne espresso cup.

It was not the same. A shot of water isn't nearly as fulfilling as a shot of espresso.

Lessons from the Coffee-less Day
  1. I am not addicted to coffee. I just happen to like drinking it a lot.
  2. My perkiness comes naturally to me and isn't a caffeine-induced thing
  3. I love my Anne of Green Gables espresso cup, perhaps a little too much; I think I may be addicted to it.
  4. When I don't have coffee, I start to think that machines are out to get me.

11 April 2012

lord, thou art fulness {a poem, not by me}

I seem to be titling a lot of posts like that: a poem, not by me.

But just the other day, I was talking to a very good friend I haven't talked to in a very long time, and she said, "Kamiah, I've been writing so much poetry."

I got a little jealous.

Where are my poems? Why can't I hear the beginnings of poems in my head, as I can at other times when I'm feeling very poetical?

{It's much like hearing the beginning of a song you used to know well. That's how I describe it when a poem starts to form.}

I didn't say that, though; instead, I was mature, or the semblance of maturity, and said, "Oh, how lovely! What do you think is bringing about all this poetry now?"

Because we all know—all us writers know—that writing can come and go, and poetry especially seems to be tied to circumstances of season or what you're reading or how tuned in you are to the small, quiet moments of your day.

If you're in a rushing-rushing-pushing season, it can be harder to see the possibility of poetry in your life, and aha! Maybe that's where my poetry has gone: to the threshing floor of increased productivity and having Too Much to Do.

But that's not where my friend is right now. She told me, "I think all this poetry is coming from how overwhelmed I am with God's unconditional love right now."

This friend of mine has this way of saying things like that that bring me to a halt. Quickly. She says these things not in an overly religious or spiritualized way—not in a way that makes you think she's saying it just because it sounds like a pretty good evangelical thing to say.

She's saying it because she's tuned in to the small, quiet voice of God in her day, and since it'd been so long since I'd talked to her, I'd forgotten how much I love that about her—this way she has of reminding me of the beauty of God's character and his love, all with a few little words.

She's overwhelmed with God's unconditional love right now, and that's coming out in poetry.

To fill my mind and heart with more poetry and more God, I turned to Christina Rossetti right after I hung up the phone. I opened my little book of her poems to a page with this on it:

Lord, Thou Art Fulness

Lord, Thou art fulness, I am emptiness:
Yet hear my heart speak in its speechlessness
Extolling Thine unuttered loveliness.

And it had this on the same page:

I Cannot Plead

O Lord, I cannot plead my love of Thee:
I plead Thy love of me;—
The shallow conduit hails the unfathomed sea.

With those two little poems and that one long conversation, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities the Lord gives us in a day. Maybe eventually that will become a poem, but for right now, all I can say is: O Lord, thank you.

02 April 2012

i don't give a fig: lessons from the fig tree

The summer after I graduated from college, I was in a waiting room. Not a physical one—I mean this metaphorically.

That fall, I was going to Rouen, France, for a school year to be a language assistant in a French high school.

In between graduation and France, I was an editorial intern at InterVarsity Press—living in the suburbs of Chicago and trying to decide if marking up copy was indeed what I did want to do with the rest of my life.

I was plagued with all those typical post-college questions:
  • How do I know which job is right for me?
  • Was British literature, French, and linguistics really the smartest thing for me to study?
  • When will I feel like a real grown-up?
Questions like that can make you impatient and nervous, and when I look back on the me of eight years ago, that's what I see: someone who was scared about making a wrong choice. I was petrified that one false step and I'd be off the path to success and happiness and the house with a white picket fence and summer vacations.

What I couldn't see then—but I can see now—is that life isn't so black and white.

Life isn't a "one path cut through the dark forest" kind of thing. It's not a fairy tale story where if you wander from the path, you'll be lost forever among the wolves and wolves in sheep's clothing.

It's a journey, yes, and there are different paths to take and you do sometimes find yourself in a dark forest. But as you grow older, you begin to trust that there will be a sunny meadow somewhere on the other side of that dark forest, even if you have to take five different paths to get there.

Okay, so all these deep life thoughts were precipitated by re-discovering something that I wrote when I was in that metaphorical waiting room. It was this thing on the fig tree that I wrote for the online version of Relevant magazine, and re-reading it, I crashed right into my petrified self.

In it, I'm writing about what it means to see growth in your life. How do you know that you're doing all right? How do you know that you're on the right path, even if you can't see any signs that are saying: This is the way; walk in it?

I was worried about those things, but I was trying not to let it show. My 30-year-old self can see all that clearly in this piece, although I'm sure that in eight years or so, I'll look back on stuff I've written here and say: Oh my dear little Kamiah, CALM DOWN. Also, don't try to talk like you have it all figured out.

I'm posting this today for two reasons:
  1. To make it easy on myself in eight years or so when I'm looking back on my writing and trying to find proof that I have actually matured since college.
  2. Because today, the Monday of Holy Week, is the day that Jesus cursed the fig tree. So timely!
And now, a note from my 22-year-old self trying to sound mature:

I don’t know much about fig trees. As a girl from Iowa, there hasn’t been much need to ever learn about them. For one, I’m not even sure if they grow in Iowa, and why should I care anyway? It’s not like I live on a farm or vineyard or wherever fig trees are really grown.

Here’s the extent of my knowledge of fig trees or fig-related things:
  • Some people say, “I don’t give a fig.” However this is an expression I’ve never used, and I don’t think I will until I’m 74.
  • It’s not a cookie; it’s fruit and cake. That’s the Fig Newton slogan, but I always thought those were old lady snacks. Just give me an Oreo.
  • Jesus cursed a fig tree in Mark 11:12-14.

That’s really the full range of my fig tree facts, and as you can see, it’s limited to the negative and the elderly. I found out recently however, that I can actually learn a lot from the fig tree.

In order to fully appreciate the fig tree lesson, you must know that they take three years to grow enough to start producing fruit. Until then, fig trees seem rather useless—especially to the untrained and impatient.

If you don’t see the fig tree with the right frame of mind, then you won’t see the necessary maturing process. You’ll see only apparent idleness and disappointment.

Look at the vineyard owner in Luke 13:6-9. He had a fig tree planted, imagining the massive number of fruit it would produce to sell at a reasonable price.

He was a good businessman perhaps, but he was no green thumb. He didn’t understand the fig tree’s process: “For three years now, I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?” (7).

The hired hand who did work at the vineyard knew better and knew that the tree would bear fruit soon enough. He calmed his master down without belittling him: “Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine! If not, cut it down” (9).

Think of it this way: you’re the vineyard owner, in charge of your life (that’d be the fig tree), but certainly not entirely capable or even sure of yourself. You feel like you’re doing what you’re “supposed to,” but you’re not seeing the tangible results. You’re still struggling with that one sin (for me, it’s spiritual complacency, pride, and comparison...ok, that’s several sins).

You just want to get over it, get past it, mature away from it—but the sin keeps attacking in different, surprising ways.

You want to scream, “But I’m doing everything I know how! I’m reading the Bible, I’m praying, I’m honestly seeking you, God! So why isn’t it doing any good? What’s the point if I’m just going to keep re-learning these same dumb lessons?”

You’re the vineyard owner, unsure of why it’s taking so long to become who you want to be inside—that ideal, shining Christian that can’t ever seem to be reconciled to who you actually are.

Enter the hired hand, the guy really doing all the work around here, the guy who really knows what’s going on. The hired hand—aka, God—gives you the gentle reminder (sometimes, of course, it’s not so gentle) that growth and maturity take time.

They also take a little work—his work on you. He has to dig around you, tearing away everything that refuses to bring glory to him.

Then you can learn to be dependent on him alone. He has to fertilize the soil around you so that instead of just passively accepting lessons, you’re ingesting them and using them to help you grow.

Yeah, it’s a combination of work: yours and God’s. Then the fruit comes, but not until after patience, endurance, and dependence develop.

And keep in mind that a fig tree doesn’t bear fruit all the time. There are rest periods, there are droughts, there is blooming without fruit (never good—that’s like in Mark 11:12-14 when Jesus cursed the fig tree). However, through all that, the fig tree is still a fig tree doing what it can to fulfill its purpose—to bear fruit.

As a Christian, you have to bear fruit for God. That’s why he digs around you, fertilizes the soil, prunes you—so that you’ll work for him and reflect his glory.

You have to trust that the fruit will come in his time (an easy thing to say and a hard thing to practice with honesty), so don’t torture yourself feeling worthless for God because you never seem to grow past the same temptations and disappointments. You are growing, but generally it’s a long, growing process like the fig tree’s.

Before bearing the fruit that God wants you to, you have to work on responding to his care.

Who knew that fig trees offered such reassurance?


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