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Losing Poetry: a faith based story from the Story Powerline
Wednesday, April 22, 2020 by Becky Cerling Powers

Thumbs in the thumbs’ place,

Fingers all together,

This is the song we sing in mitten weather

Whether they are made of wool or finest leather,

Thumbs in the thumbs’ place,

Fingers all together!”

 My mother used to chant this rhyme as she tugged our mittens on in the winter. And to this day, I can’t help a child put mittens on without hearing in my mind the cheerful cadence of those words.

The gift of poetry

As a child, I loved poetry – the rollicking rhythms, the delight of rhyme, the rightness of a few choice words, the surprise of unexpected imagery. I memorized poetry, recited it, and in grade school discovered I had a gift for writing it. Poetry was joy to me. As a teen it was a much-needed emotional outlet, as well. I could write about what was bothering me, express my griefs or my sense of humor. When I began college, I was still scribbling away.

 After I graduated from the university, my life became more complicated. I married Dennis, moved to Germany where my husband was stationed, traveled in Europe, gave birth to a son, moved to New Jersey for my husband’s graduate school, lived in the Kenyan desert with Dennis and the baby while Dennis did fieldwork for his Ph.D. dissertation, returned to the U.S. and gave birth to a daughter…My life was full.

 Poetry lost

And I suddenly I realized I wanted to express what I was feeling in words through poetry again. Yet it dawned on me that all these marvelous experiences –falling in love, marrying, going through culture shock, going through marriage shock, giving birth, parenting – all the emotional tides of my new life had produced no poetry.

 How odd.

 So I tried writing poetry.

 Nothing. The gift seemed gone. I couldn’t figure it out. So finally, I asked God why I could no longer write poetry.

 Remembering why

And then a memory surfaced: a brief moment I had entirely forgotten. One night while I was in college, shortly before I met Dennis, I felt the Lord asking me to give Him my poetry, to direct it as He chose. I said no. Now the truth was, my scheming heart didn’t really expect God to take no for an answer. I expected Him to keep on bringing up the subject until I finally relented. But meantime, during the Jacob-like struggle, I could keep the gift to myself, for my own purposes.

 But God didn’t ask again. And somehow the gift disappeared.

 I began crying out to the Lord about it. I repented. I asked forgiveness.

 Poetry returned

And the gift of writing poetry came back…but not for publication. The gift came back as a way to work through and understand important ideas, as a way to put scripture to music, and also as a way to write songs. I had tried songwriting in my college days but couldn’t do it. Now I could, and my prayer life entered a new realm writing scripture-based prayers and songs. Today I often sing my prayers…a special gift in the hurly burly of life, a way to pray without ceasing, singing prayers for people as I work…

Was God being spiteful?

Some could say, I suppose, that God was mean. He asked for something, and when I wouldn’t give it, He took the thing in spite and went off in a huff.

That was not my experience. Through all those years of no longer writing poetry, I experienced God’s love in constant ways. He communicated with me, gave me insights, comforted me, taught me, encouraged me…I learned to recognize His voice, His presence. I grew so much. He never turned His back on me. He never excluded me. He never withheld affection in any way.

So what happened?

God’s respect for my choices

First off, I didn’t take either God or my own adult responsibilities seriously. God gave me free will – the ability to choose yes or no – and when I refused His request, He treated me as an adult. It’s disrespectful to make decisions for an adult. So when He asked permission to get more involved in one part of my life, He respected my choice. I said no, and He accepted that.

Second, I didn’t think through Who God is.

Reality check: how God creates

The Apostle John began his gospel with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:1-5).

So God created the cosmos, the universe, the earth and all their wonders by speaking them into existence. God created the cosmos by His Word. When He created humankind in His image, He created us with the ability to speak, write, use body language: to communicate. When God asked me to take my poetry into a new direction, and I said no, I was telling the Word…the Source of All Communication… not to interfere with the poetry part of my life.

 So He didn’t.

 And then I was surprised that I couldn’t write poetry??!!???

The Beatitudes

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 

The poor in spirit are those who recognize who God really is -- the Creator of all we have that is good. If we give anything to Him, it can only be because He gave it to us first. 

Today’s prayer

I acknowledge, Lord, that my understanding is in the dark. I do not take You seriously. I do not stop to think carefully Who You are, what You have done for me, or how I need to respond in an appropriate way. Help me. Wake me up, give light to my darkness, help me to think clearly and act sensibly. Amen.

© Becky Cerling Powers 2019

For the next few months I will be posting stories that help us understand the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain. For more faith-based family stories to share with friends and older children, check out Laura’s Children: the hidden story of a Chinese orphanage and My Roots Go Back to Loving and other stories from Year of the Family in the Bookstore.

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