Poetry: It is Time

clock face

It is Time

By: Courtney Beck

 

In our pursuit of everything

Have we forgotten to focus in

On the one thing

That just might steady our neurotic nerves?

The ones that say “I’m starving”

while sitting mere steps from the

“All You Can Eat Buffet.”

The ones that orchestrate indebtedness

on the account with limitless funds.

 

What if the only thing we really need

Is a watch.

Not the kind that tells us we’re late,

But the one with the steady hands

That reminds us to refer to our calendars

And the lessons of the long years.

 

Surely, we can keep time to a

far more enduring calendar.

Surely, we can look beyond December 25th

and all its glitter and unfortunate fuss.

I beg you not ask me how I know this,

But the truth is a gift if you’ll allow it.

 

There’s a moment in the future

when the body beckons your people forward

as a gift for the ones that would

brave your farewell.

If grace has been welcomed,

and surely it awaits your invitation,

We will surround your majestic oak

of a life, in love.

 

If grace has been welcomed

we’ll sit beneath your shade, and,

in an activated miracle, agree to

trade any hint of manufactured warmth 

for the depth of a fireside chat.

If only we would come as we are.

If only we’d absorb the cost of

this fine wine.

 

It is time.

The hands on the watch are abundantly clear.

You must prepare for Christmas, this Christmas,

in the wilderness. (Blase)¹

 

¹ Blase, John. “What Such a Claim Might At Last Entail.” The Jubilee, Bright Coppers Press, p.10

 

 

 

 

Poetry: Making Arrangements

rainbow and rain

Making Arrangements

By: Courtney Beck

 

I remember the day that I learned you would die.

Just A child, pierced to the very center,

I contorted and screamed

and ran into your arms.

 

I strangled your every word of comfort and

Though you were thoughtful and kind,

found them utterly unsatisfying.

You couldn’t rearrange this new reality,

no matter how hard you tried.

 

And who of us wouldn’t try?

Who of us wouldn’t attempt to shroud

the loss of a god so large?

I’m afraid there are not enough

sheets in a global hemisphere

that could veil such a cavernous void.

 

So I made arrangements.

I put you at the corner of my heart,

And felt the distorted and sick sort of safety

That one must feel at the edges of an airplane,

Right before you dive.

Right before you trust the parachute,

That thin and corded sheet that we’ve packed just so

For that moment in the air,

In some distant future, or maybe later today,

When, because of our meticulous planning,

we’ll believe in the power of a rip chord

to keep us safe.

 

This did not do.

This did not suffice.

 

I’ve never liked the edges of an airplane.

I’ve always wanted the wide open spaces,

of the green and grassy fields of the earth.

I’ve always wanted full breaths of warm air and morning dew.

I’ve only ever wanted the warmth and comfort of your presence.

 

And so I re-wrote the flight plan,

The best that I could.

I closed that fearful doorway and

landed the plane in our field.

And either at a distance or close by

I suppose I made arrangements.

I worked at loving you

From the center of my heart,

And though human and limited

It was perfect.

 

Today I walk in the cold, cleansing rain,

remembering your ways and your words.

I feel your necklace as it swings,

side to side, step by step

On the edges of a heart that

loved you from the very center.

 

I decide that

Warm tears and a cool rain will

fill an empty cup, eventually.

I decide to make arrangements;

and hold this vessel.

I determine to watch it fill, and overflow,

Full of gratitude, full of fire.

Full of rest and full of life.

 

Poetry: The Song

apple

The Song

By: Courtney Beck

 

“You’re so vain,” sings the Mama amidst the produce.

“You probably think this song is about you,”

she insists, in perfect pitch,  inspecting an orange. 

Her children clamor behind her

For candy and toys and trinkets

They are sure will satisfy,

But Mama has turned the energy she can muster

To the colors of the fruit at her waist.

 

She sings her song with rising power,

Drowning the children’s cries in Simon’s ironic melody.

We, her produce aisle companions,

Smile with our understanding

And carry the tune with us

To the parking lot.

Our paper bags filled

with the apples and pears and bananas

we’ve chosen,

Reminding us, if we’ll allow them,

of what this woman is trying to say:

 

Don’t postpone joy.

 

Truly, truly, I must insist.

Suffer the little children and

Pursue the golden fruit of a life 

Poured out in the produce aisle,

Received again and again,

in our parking lots,

and at our kitchen tables.

 

What good do the candy and trinkets and toys do

if we wait?

If we wait, the clamor is all that we have.

If we wait, the children will swarm.

If we wait, we all,

but mostly you,

will miss the song.

 

And don’t you know this song is about you?

Don’t you know this song is not about you at all?

Don’t you?

Don’t you?

Well, do you?

 

 

Come to the Table

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I’ll never forget the first time I heard these words:

“Lord, you have called us to abundant life.”

We were at our small group leaders’ home in Towson, Maryland and my new friend Heather (who is now, 15? years later, the “friend of my right hand” – to quote Madeleine L’Engle) was praying for us. Just before beginning to pray she and I and our husband/boyfriend (Andy and I were not yet engaged!) had let out literal belly laughs as we’d remembered our time together the weekend before. The previous Saturday we had attended a fund raising party for a couple in our church that was adopting a child. This party was bananas. Wine and drinks flowed. Music bellowed throughout the beautiful home in northern Baltimore where the party hosts, also members of our church, lived. The food and drink: delicious and overflowing. We all paid $50 to attend in support of the adoption fund and just had a bonkers night on behalf of this wonderful couple that we all knew and loved who wanted to grow their family.

It was one of those nights that you think about for weeks afterwards and which Heather capped so perfectly through her prayer.

“Lord, our Father, you have called us to abundant life.”

Her prayer caused me to pause because after two dozen years in church I had never heard this before. If I had, it certainly hadn’t stuck. Abundant life? That sounds wonderful!

And this is allowed?

I wondered…and then I thought about our weekend. That party was abundant life, FOR SURE. If that’s what a life with the church and a life with the Lord is like, then count me in 10,000 times over and then some.

This is all coming to mind as Andy and I celebrate 10 years on our shared adventure of faith. Last weekend, August 17, was 10 years to the day that Andy packed up our Subaru in Baltimore and headed South to Galveston to start his PhD program. I would follow him a couple of months later after I finished up my duties at work.

Realizing the date over the course of this last week we determined to wake up super early on Saturday morning and have coffee together before our kids woke up, clamoring for breakfast. The past six months haven’t been the easiest as we’ve attended to a newborn and stretched our parenting muscles from one child to two. Lighting a candle in the backyard and enjoying a cup of coffee together while the sun rose was just the simple moment we needed to reflect on what has happened over the past decade and where we hope to go next.

The past ten years have not been easy. Nor, though, have they been utterly devastating. I suppose, if anything, its felt like we’ve been at the spiritual gym, gaining some spiritual resilience. Each of us have let go of things that we needed to loosen our grip on. Both of us have learned bit by bit to tune our hearts and our spirits to the Lord’s call. This process of discernment, we have learned, is almost always asking to be found underneath all the crap that we pile on top of it. Both of us have learned that we don’t have nearly as much control over where our journey will take us as we may have originally wanted.

But all of those lessons had us up at 6:00 AM on a Saturday morning sitting in our backyard (such that it is…picture a cement pad with a table and two chairs looking at neighboring apartments…URBAN LIVING, right?!), with two kids asleep in their room, a candle burning and some coffee…asking for more:

More career question marks that God figures out in his own perfect timing

More dinners with good friends that last far too late into the night

More gatherings around friends and their families at their weddings, where we lift them up in our hearts (and possibly in their chairs!) and remember our own commitments

Maybe, dare I say it, more gatherings around friends and family who are mourning, knowing that we’ll remember for weeks and years how we held vigil, singing for hours, until our beloved brother finally went home. More of this because we know its where we’re all headed. And more of this because it brings us to tears to this day as we think about it and remember, with awe, how a small band of people helped a widow and her family grieve in the most beautiful way we’ve ever seen.

More labor and delivery…of actual humans, sure, should the Lord lead…but also labor and delivery of long held dreams that we’d started to believe would never come to pass until suddenly its time to push and the angels rush the room to help us bring forth the life that we never knew we always wanted.

24 years in church and I never knew it could be like this. Or maybe it just took 24 years of hearing the same things over and over again until the penny finally dropped and we woke up to what those 24 years of inputs actually meant.

It means abundant life in partnership with the living God.

This is, frankly, where we landed on Saturday morning. We’re asking for ten (20, 30, 40?) more years of faithful partnership with each other. Faithful partnership with our kids. Faithful partnership with our church. Faithful partnership to A PLACE. Ultimately, despite our preferences, we want many more years of faithful partnership with the Holy Spirit who will provide the power and resources needed to make a beautiful story out of two people who can, in reality, be more prone to forget that God was the author and inventor of faithful partnerships from the outset.

Reader, can I be honest with you? Most of this stuff is not sexy. Lest I mislead you, be aware that even this powerful morning coffee date between Andy and I required some divine assistance to stay on course. But somehow, as the years pass and we loosen our fingers from things we once held with a death grip, we are finding that there’s room for the spirit of God to do his thing in our lives. And this is just so refreshing.

So, if you’re reading this and your skeptical I say to you simply this:

“Come to the table.”

The table of the Lord is where you’ll find the fine wine every time. You’ll have the best conversations here and you’ll be fed in ways you never imagined you could be fed. Eventually, maybe even 10 years from now, you’ll find that you’ve realized, you simply can’t fathom why you would ever have wanted to leave in the first place.

If you’re reading this and your question is: “Ok, but how?” that can be a longer discussion (so clearly we’ll need more wine!). I may address this in more detail in my next few posts, but I believe that it starts with a moment of humility. It starts in the quiet, just you and God, where you’re finally honest with him.  Tell him you don’t know how to find him. Tell him your fears. Tell him what you want. Ask him to show you how to proceed. Ask him to show himself to you in ways you can understand. Readers, I have never, EVER, prayed a prayer of humility and not found him unwilling to sit with me. Answers often come later than I’d like. But presence? This is literally the Holy Spirits job description. Which is ultimately what we all want in this life. To quote a favorite speaker of mine: “the Holy Spirit came to put an end to loneliness.” Yes, more of this please.

10 years ago I believed that God was good like I believed marriage, homeownership and a retirement plan were good. Today, I believe God is good and “for me” in such an ultimate way that anything else he gives me from this point forward is icing on the cake. I feel like I finally know the path I must take to be who I really am. What a fundamental shift. What a gift to loosen the grip on things that do not ultimately satisfy.

You can call me crazy. (Lord knows I often feel crazy.) But I will just never get over this good news. So come sit at the table with me. I am a hot mess most days wondering how we’re going to get all of the things done and who will help me to do it. The reality is that God’s already got the details covered and I’m supposed to keep my eyes on the man at the head of the table. He’s got scars on his hands but he’s not out of business. He’s preparing an epic feast and you’re going to want some of what he’s cooking up.

Poetry: Let’s Be Brave

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Let’s Be Brave

By: Courtney Beck

 

When Galileo considered the cosmos,

Did he panic?

Did his heart leap in his chest,

And his guts try to hide?

 

Or, for a minute, did he

Stammer, like the Establishment?

Furrowed brow, clenched fist

Insistent on a power only as strong,

As their beating hearts,

Now forgotten, in an abandoned cemetery,

Across the impossible sea.

 

And what about me?

I awake today, restless,

Awaiting a morning sun,

Whose rising I cannot hasten,

Nor stop.

 

I consider a sliver

Of the sunlit moon,

Curling my hands around

My morning coffee mug.

 

Inhaling the space between us

Where human bodies rest,

I wonder.

Are we impotent?

Possibly.

Microscopically vital?

Yes.

 

“Let’s be brave,” I whisper,

“Let’s have faith.”

“Let’s build a chapel on the moon.”

Newly Published

lake

Greetings all! A quick note here to share that I’ve got some new articles out at external publications. America magazine (the Jesuit publication of the Catholic church) picked up a piece I wrote about my time both at Loyola University and in the Protestant church.

Check it out here.

Fathom Magazine picks up pieces from writers who like to think deeply on aspects of life and faith and so they kindly published a poem I wrote.

Check it out here.

I’m currently considering what the Fall writing season will look like and hope to have more posts out here and elsewhere during that time. I am grateful for my small and growing community here who has been such an encouragement to keep putting words down as we build our physical family and community here in Atlanta.

Would love to hear from you directly to learn about what the Holy Spirit is (or isn’t!) doing in your life. If I can encourage you in anyway, do consider me an ally and a friend – and I will do the same with you. Also, if there’s something you’d like me to consider writing about I’d love to hear that too.

Until then, I leave you with my favorite picture and poem from summer vacation. Sunrise on the lake…which followed a late night meteor shower across the visible Milky Way. (Which was then followed by a really long nap!) We are rested here and ready for what Fall has in store. I hope you are too.

With love,

Courtney

lake

First Lesson
By: Philip Booth

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

 

 

Going “All-In”

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Happy Summer, faithful readers. I hope you all are enjoying the season and getting some needed rest time. I hope this for you primarily because we have, for the most part, NOT been getting our needed rest. Such is the life with two tiny humans and we are rather matter of fact about it all. We know the sleeplessness won’t last forever and we’re fighting the good fight with as much joy as we know how. In the big picture, we know we are well.

Before Ethan was born, my mom told me often about the fact that one child plus another child, will feel like more than two. She is not wrong about this. HA! Sometimes it feels like the minute you get one child situated and asleep the other one has a problem and you could swear on a dear one’s grave that these two have coordinated a game of “keep them awake” tag until the morning sun comes up. Some days you throw in the towel on getting any quality sleep and slump down the stairs to make the strongest pot of coffee possible. I think the hardest part for me right now is never having a minute to just sit down with your own thoughts. I find this particularly problematic because my career of choice actually requires me to sit down with my own thoughts and write about them. In ways, I’d prefer, that make sense to an adult English speaking audience.

Since Ethan arrived, I’ve made the decision to go “all-in” as a working writer. I’ve felt a calling towards writing since college and I knew once he was born that if I didn’t really go for it with both feet I would always wonder. Of course, going “all-in” has some severe limitations in this season. With no income yet, I have to find cracks of time to write in and sometimes those cracks get swept away by a kid that can’t sleep. Honestly, I think more than anything, my decision to go for a writing career has been more of a decision to say “no” to a bunch of other good things I could do in spare time that might distract from the goal of pursuing my calling as a writer.

All of this had me returning to John chapter 5 last week to read the story of the healing at the pool of Bethesda. I swear this is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. A man who has been sick for 38 years is sitting by a pool of water that he hopes will heal him. Of course we could mock the man for thinking that water could save him but after 38 years I’m certain we’d all do the same. There’s not a one of us who would not turn over every last rock to try to find some relief after literal decades of suffering.

So here’s this man, wanting to get into a pool, and Jesus arrives to ask him a super direct question: “Do you want to be made well?”

I love the man’s response because it’s so relatable: “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Do you see whats happening here as clearly as I do? The man didn’t really answer Jesus’ question? Jesus asked him a simple question that would clarify his deep desire and the man responded with all the things that were getting in the way of a short-term and therefore short-sighted task: stepping into a pool that, we know, likely wouldn’t get him any closer to healing than anything else he had tried to date.

Jesus doesn’t waste any time. After 38 years, he knows this man needs Mercy with a capital “M”. So he doesn’t press him like he might other individuals he encounters. He tells him “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk!” and the man does only to throw the Jewish leaders into a tizzy, starting a fight about what is right or wrong to do on the Sabbath. (Side note: this is a very typical move for people with power who don’t partner with the Holy Spirit – they nit pick your every move, looking to discredit your wholeness. The best answer for these types of people after you are healed from a season of uncertainty is to just keep on walking with your mat under your armpit. LIKE A BOSS.) (additional side note: I’m getting so amped up as I write this. Did I mention that I love this story? Well, I just love it. And you should love it too.)

Clearly, I’m getting off track here. Let me just tell you that this story came to mind like a total grace bomb on a night last week when I felt like the ship was going down. We were at the height of our summer kiddo shenanigans last week when all four of us caught a summer cold. Andy and I felt awful and wanted nothing more than to curl up and go to sleep but instead found ourselves dealing with two kids who only managed to feel the real symptoms of their colds at night when they went to sleep. One night, I went into Ellie’s room and laid down next to her, my mind drifting anxiously to the commitment I’d made to write more in the coming months.  I found myself talking in my mind like the man in the story. “Every last brain cell I have, and probably some of my neighbor’s, is wrapped up in these kids right now.” “There’s just no time to write. Ever.” “Who even wants to write anyway? At this point I’d go for a week or two of sleep with a package of Sudafed and some throat lozenges.”

Then the pool of Bethesda came to mind, kind of out of nowhere. I recalled “Do you want to be made well?” which might as well be another version of my favorite question of all of Jesus’ questions: “What do you want?” I could feel my heart answer: “You know. I want to write beautiful things with you. I want these kids and this marriage and all the joys and difficulties that come with them.” All I can say is that the Holy Spirit responded in the same way he usually does. With the memory that the man who was sick for 38 years was cured followed by a peaceful and authoritative silence that felt like this:

“I already know, kiddo. Don’t stop answering my question. The fruit will roll out, bit by bit. And it will all be exactly what we’ve always wanted.”

Sigh.

I love God.

 

Going Deep

starfish

About once every six weeks or so I come across a person asking the world how to best limit technology. It’s a common question these days. We’ve all had that experience where we sit down to check in on the world after a busy day and find ourselves, 90 minutes later, still chuckling at cat pictures on social media. I’ve never really known what to say when folks ask for tips. I’ve tried to limit social media in various ways. For me, social media platforms can be like having a bag of candy in my pocket. I consume it because its right there.

I don’t have any moral quandaries about social media use. I’m just wondering if it makes me slothful. After a time, it feels like consuming candy and its instant sugar surge as opposed to more edifying things for my mind and soul.

I recently read a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. Newport is a business professor at Georgetown University. He’s also a young father and husband who wants to see his family at the end of the day. Ask any college professor and they will tell you that work/life balance is a hard target to hit in the field. Newport had to rearrange his work day in order to keep all the balls in the air. For him, the answer lies in long stretches of time working on important, hard to solve issues without the distraction of social media, email and even meetings with students. Newport has published four books in his short amount of time since completing graduate school and the only network tool he has used is a blog. It drives his publishers crazy but he’s making a great point. You can succeed and not get sucked in to the call for quicker and faster connection to your community. In the long run, you might even find yourself more fruitful.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, I finally feel like I have something substantive to say to people who ask for tips about tech use. I believe people are really asking this: How do I live well in a social media world? How do I contribute in a significant way to my family and workplace without getting sucked into this secondary world of people who are not actually present in my living room? My answer? I think you need long stretches of time when you shut the platforms down. I think you have to have faith that you won’t need to keep up with the current sarcasm trends to remain relevant. In fact, I’m starting to believe that people are so distracted these days that the person who’s the most present with themselves and other people will become the most relevant person in the room.

Maybe there will be seasons like Halloween where you join back up and reconnect with old pals. But likely, for the rest of the year, it needs to stop coming into the house. Afterall, if you’re anything like me, and there’s a bag of Kit Kats on the counter, you’re going to eat them. I’m saying all of this as a person who wants to get published one day. And still, I can’t get past the notion that my best work will come from long periods of time spent wholly in my own life.

All this helps me consider the problems and issues that I really want to put my hands to. For me, its my people and my writing career. I realized a few weeks ago that if I was to survive the summer with my kids, I would need to make a significant change in this department. I became far too reactive, specifically with my energetic three year old. I also realize that what’s most important in my writing career right now is to actually write. Yes, there might be a time when I need to share my work more regularly in a viral way. Social media tools can be helpful with this. But these tools don’t matter much if I don’t have anything of substance to share. So I made the decision to shutdown Facebook for the summer in order to go deep.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a great article on the topic: The Art of Focus by David Brooks.

“The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.”

We’re all in different places in life, but perhaps you’ll find these thoughts helpful. How are you living wholly in your life right now? Are there ways you limit technology that you find helpful? Would love to hear from you.

The purpose of a man’s heart is like deep water

but a man of understanding will draw it out. 

Proverbs 20:5

 

Poetry: We Have Everything That We Need.

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We Have Everything That We Need

By: Courtney Beck

 

Too often, I live my days

in the future. Too often I catch myself

Believing the lie that we’re behind,

the Establishment is watching,

and they are unimpressed.

“It’s time.” they say.

“You’re late.” they say,

All the while, my whole body nodding,

in its unconsidered agreement.

 

That is until the days, mostly recent,

when I sit back in my chair,

asking quietly, atleast at first:

 

“What is it time for?”

“What are we late for?”

“And who, might I ask, ARE YOU?”

 

We’re different, you and I,

in just as many ways as

We’re the same. 

We’re looking out the same window, at the same field

And we see, more and more,

that the boundary lines,

made in our minds, 

can be redrawn.

 

Cut to fit us, like a fitted suit

They feel like a finely crafted power

Made by the tailor, who sweeps and tugs at the fabric

he’s shaped to fit our shoulders

 

Do not be afraid, my love.

We will have what it takes.

Let’s go together.

We have everything that we need.

Poetry: American Robots

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American Robots

By: Courtney Beck

 

If there’s a chicken in every pot, who prospers?

Do I? Does my child?

I guess, I’m not quite sold.

 

I’ve had chicken prepared

A thousand ways in my lifetime.

Quickly, quickly after work.

Quickly, quickly before bed.

 

Is something missing?

Do we ever stop to ask?

When will be the right time?

 

Will we ever realize that Chicken Elizabeth,

after a time,

Drowns the senses for a summer salad

prepared from nobody’s garden.

 

There just wasn’t time to plant this season

And so, they won’t be showing for dinner tonight.

Chicken’s on the menu at their house this evening too.