29 October 2019

breakme

On those all-too-short,
All-too-infrequent afternoons
When I find myself
Surfing waves of insight,
Drenched in sweet splashes
Of clean, steadily flowing code,
When I encounter distractions,
I drop this breadcrumb
Reminding myself to handle
A mundane or difficult detail
At some later point:

breakme

It has neither decorator nor punctuation,
No class, no ancestors, no descendants,
Nor, indeed,
any
syntactic
validity
whatsoever.

It is a placeholder chosen
For the express purpose
Of forcing my poor compiler to its knees.

It is the rusty length of rebar
Thrown into the gears
Of my carefully maintained machine,
The mandatory full stop
Designed to keep me
from forgetting.

22 October 2019

Plowing

You harrowed my heart
like a baked-clay field
hardened by sun and weather
furrowed by unyielding blades
turned over in search
of the good fertile soil
the soil You knew
was there all along
softened and prepared
for spring planting
and--
unimaginably--
a bountiful harvest

21 October 2019

Plans and Providence: Reflections on Turning 38

Editor's Note: These are some thoughts I published on the Facebook while miserably sick on my birthday. 

It has been a delight to see so many kind birthday wishes rolling in from people all over the country today. Thank you all for making my day even sweeter!

A few folks have expressed hopes that I would receive my desires or enjoy a meaningful celebration today.

I can assure you I am having perhaps the most memorable birthday of my life today, through no planning of my own. And since I find myself with some downtime to fill, I shall share it with you, Dear Reader!

Here is how I expected today to go:

0430 - Rise for a workout with the incomparable Keith Fine at Fitrition.
0600 - Home for a refreshing shower, coffee, breakfast, and abundant affection from my sweet family.
0800 - A day of pleasant, productive, stimulating work at Kalos, Inc., writing code and spending time with people I deeply like and admire.
1630 - Leave for Lawrence with my splendiferous wife Magen to enjoy the world’s best nachos at Taco Zone and a Drew Holcomb concert with my dear friends and sibs, Joe and Jessie Hawkinson.
2300 or so (?) - Collapse into my bed, exhausted but sated with good things. Sleep with the windows open, hearing autumn noises, feeling the chilly breeze, and nestling gratefully under my down comforter.

Great plan, huh? Here’s what happened instead:

0230: Awake for no apparent reason.
0235: Intense intestinal discomfort.
0236: Disgusting Symptoms. Oh well, at least it’s not the Really Disgusting Symptoms.
0255: The Really Disgusting Symptoms.
0300 - Fitful rest and standup comedians on YouTube. Enjoy the repetition of the Symptoms many times.
0430, maybe? - Start calling in so trainer and job are aware.
0500 - Sleep! Praise Jesus!
0540 - Awake, Really Disgusting Symptom, sleep.
0730 - Awake, say goodbye to saintly wife who is removing all the children from our home.

“Sorry your birthday is ruined,” she says.

“It’s ok,” I say. “Not really into birthdays anyway. Just another day closer to my inevitable death.”

“You’re a mess,” she says. “But I guess being sick actually makes it easier to see your own mortality, so... it’s kind of a perfect gift for you.”

I laugh so hard that I soon find myself lunging toward the bathroom in order to prevent a Disgusting Symptom from getting all over my sheets.

0800 - Lie in bed watching Netflix, contemplating my mortality, and occasionally getting up to do various Symptoms.

And that is where I am even now, O ye persistent witness to my Symptom-redolent woes!

I normally try to avoid excessive pontification, but as the Bard says, “It’s my party and I’ll pontificate if I want to... you would pontificate too if it happened to you.”

Seriously, though, just a few thoughts before I go back to a fun-filled afternoon of vegetating and doing Symptoms:
  1. I don’t often get a chance to sit around doing nothing all day. It’s kind of fun every once in a while.
  2. I was struck by how much my birthday plan resembles a normal day. What delight and beauty and joy and health I often overlook!
  3. My death truly is approaching. I dwell in a mortal body, and this makes me want to live life to the fullest. It also makes me look forward to the New Creation and the redemption of my body. Come, Lord Jesus.
  4. At Hutchmoot, a feast that I had the privilege of attending last week, someone reminded me, “God always gives what we need when we need it.” That, more than anything else, has been the theme of this year for me. I both believe it and truly thank the Lord for this disgustingly providential opportunity to believe it better.
So, the short answer, and one without any hint of irony: It’s been a great birthday so far, and my deepest longings are being fulfilled.

13 October 2019

III. Stars in the Universe

For Wes and Bailey
Here in Nashville, city lights dim the stars,
Edison’s electrical artifice
Obscuring the breathtaking grandeur
Of promises made a long time ago,
Sealed by galaxies far, far away.

Nonetheless, an unfathomable host 
Of unflinchingly faithful stars
Still testifies in silence,
If you know where to look
And how to see.

Try an Ozark hillside
On a clear winter night
When the moon has waned away
To nearly nothing
And inside a warm delivery room,
Strong and gentle hands
Comfort, uphold, protect, 
And tenderly birth into the world
A bloody, squirming, squealing miracle.

Or try the red-dust high desert
Of Navajo country, 
Where a man runs alone
From mesa to mesa, contemplating
His next idea for bending, shaping
Lifeless wood into a living, singing
Thing of beauty, 
Another weapon in the war he wages 
Against damnable darkness.

And if you still can’t see the stars
Go to an inviting space
Amid a crowd of strangers
Who feel like ancient kin
And listen to the songs of a man
Playing on a 12-string guitar
Songs of life and loveliness 
Wrested from the very maw of death.
(And be sure to have a piece 
Of sweet, tart, mouth-melting apple pie
If you can bring yourself to cut into
Its intricately adorned crust.)

Watch the stars carefully while you can,
For they all inevitably fade into obscurity...
But not forever.
Some glad morning, we'll see their glory
Born anew, as the elder stars foretold
When first they flooded light and life
Into our crooked, hurting world.

II. Per Aspera

From the moment he first drew breath
Through bluish infant lips
And let out a mighty wail 
Protesting the crushing pain
Of his journey into the world,
The cold cruelty of the open air 
After the enveloping embrace 
Of his mother’s womb,
I have loved him more than life.

I marveled at his first step,
Delighted myself in his baby laughter,
Wept for his broken bones, his broken heart,
Thanked the Maker for his strong body
And his clever mind.

And now that same Maker demands his life,
So I lay him on the rough stone altar --
My beloved, trusting, obedient son --
And pray in desperation 
That somehow death might be rendered harmless,
Fully eclipsed,
Swallowed up by life.

This is the price I paid for the stars
In all their galactic glory,
The swirling Milky Way,
The strong and silent Hunter, 
The Big and Little Bears:
I laid my dearest dream out to die
And wielded the knife myself.

11 October 2019

I. First Light

In the beginning, they were flung
Into a million million galaxies,
Not haphazardly, but myriad points
Adorning an endless tapestry
Of time and space and matter,
A grandeur so complex, so vast 
That we often see it only
As sublime impersonal chaos.

The stellar dance of matter and mass,
Of fission and fusion,
Of flares and plasma
And perpetual nuclear explosions,
Hydrogen transforming into helium,
Burning through tons of matter
In a matter of moments,
Profligate as a prodigal
Whose father’s corpse has not yet cooled.

Herein lie deep secrets of creation.
Was this the power that intoxicated
The son of the morning
When he rose up to wage
His revolutionary war?
Did he begrudge the wastefulness
Of these universe-shaping forces
Harnessed for the viewing pleasure
Of tiny creatures
On a tiny planet
Far from the Center of things?

10 October 2019

Death by Prairie

They fear and scorn our prairies:
“Kansas?” they say. 
“Watch out for Toto in a tornado!”
The Wizard of Oz jokes mask their fear and loathing,
A prairie-angst that dreads
Monotonous fields of corn and wheat, 
Soybeans and milo and wind turbines,
That is unsettled by the thought
Of a ravenous funnel-monster
Descending from the clouds,
Devouring all in its path.

I smile because I know
The prairie does want to kill us all.
But our Grim Reaper
Is likelier a deer than a twister.

Yesterday on the interstate,
I saw the deer-corpse first:
Bloody, shredded, fresh,
Tongue out and intestines splattered
Across the dotted white line;
I swerved around it.

Half a mile down the road, 
Ambulance lights flashed.
A trooper took a report
Near an SUV with out of state plates,
Its hood, bumper, windshield 
Caved in as if by some
Unseen malevolent monstrosity.

I breathed a silent prayer —
Christ, have mercy —
And continued along the highway 
Into the glorious orange-purple flames
Of the prairie sunset.

(Alternate title: Oh, Deer.)

03 October 2019

Swimming

My love is a placid lake
Nestled deep in a mysterious forest.
I love to explore those woods,
To seek solace and delight
On sweaty July afternoons
In the cool refreshment
Of her fathomless depths.

02 October 2019

The Magic Kingdom

Three decades later, his voice echoes in my heart:
Weary after a week of 14-hour days teaching algebra
But kind -- always so kind -- talking on the phone
With someone at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

"Good evening!" he says. Somehow the smile
On his sleep-deprived face spills over into his voice.
"Yes, I hope you can help me. I have a son with a dream,"
He continues, and squeezes my hand across the kitchen table.

He clicks his four-color pen to green and says,
"I need to know your rock-bottom admission price."
He writes numbers. His eyes grow wearier.
"I see. And do you offer any kind of family discount?"

The conversation goes on a few more minutes.
His smile remains, though diminished somehow,
And my heart begins to wonder if perhaps
My Mr. Fix-It may not come through this time.

"Well, thank you very much for your time,"
My father says. "You've certainly given me
A lot to think about." He stands with a muffled groan
(Sore from a day on his feet) and gently hangs up.

I am nine and have not known much disappointment,
But I'm also not stupid. My stomach tightens
Against my deepest fear: We can't go.
I ask anyway: "What did they say, Dad?"

My father sits beside me and shows me the neat column of figures.
Travel costs in blue, admission costs in green,
Food and lodging in black, and the grand total in red, underlined twice.
"Wow," I say. "That's a lot of money."

He puts an arm around my shoulder.
"Yes, it is. It would be as much money
As two cars like the one we're driving right now,
Or about two thousand gallons of milk."

He looks down, toward the paper, but stares past it,
As if his careful calculations weren't even there.
"I'm sorry, son. I think it just won't work out this time."
He looks more tired than I can ever remember seeing him.

In that moment, I glimpse the immensity
Of what this man has given me, how deeply he feels
The weight of my wishes and needs.
"It's OK, Dad," I say. "We can have a pretty good time right here."

Photo Credit