Tag Archives: Hope

My One-Note Song

Last summer I entered my first poetry book, Light in My Darknessin the Writers Digest Self Published Book Awards contest. Riding high on the coattails of being named a finalist in the Cascade Writers Contest in the published poetry category, I decided to submit my book on the last possible day of the contest and see what happened. I didn’t really expect to win, but I thought the feedback I would receive might be valuable.

I received an email with the judge’s comments just yesterday. I was a bit surprised to find that my submission was only read by one judge. Given the price tag on entering and the national scope of the contest I figured they’d have at least two judges per book.

At any rate, I thought I’d share the less-than-glowing review here with you all. I know, it seems weird to share a review that doesn’t just rave about my book, but I do so for a reason. Although the judge found fault with my labor of love, it was the very fault that he or she found that made me smile. Here’s the review, copied and pasted with grammatical errors and all, with my favorite part in bold:

Judge’s Commentary*:

This book of Christian devotional poetry is written by a woman who pulled herself up from the depths of depression through faith, and she should be admired for it. I also appreciate is that the poet uses many different forms of poetry to express herself:  pantoums, sonnets, villanelles, cinquains, triolets, sestinas, ghazals, acrostics, and even a concrete poem, as well as other rhymed verse and free verse.

My problem with this 127-page book is that it is composed almost entirely of poems of praise, and after a while it becomes a one-note song. The entire first section uses the metaphor of darkness into light to describe her salvation and coming up from depression. One can say the same thing only so many ways. There are five more sections to the book, on themes of “bring light to the darkness of others”, “being set free from the past”, forgiveness, “god in the midst of pain and suffering”, and a last section of what I would describe as “pure praise”.  Recurring themes come up in poem after poem: darkness vs. light, Jesus vs. Satan, “jars of clay”, etc. Most of the poems have an addendum of a Scripture quote too. Also, the poet chooses to label the type of poetic form beneath the title of most of these poems. This isn’t necessary, and many rhymed poems here are mislabeled as “free verse.”  The book conveys its message through its cover too – a kneeling figure on a cliff looking up to an image of a cross on a mountainside. The type size is quite large- was it meant to be a “large-print” book ? (I’m not asking this facetiously.) The bio and blurbs on the back cover are well-presented.

Granted, I am not a devout person, so maybe I don’t take the message to heart as a more religious person would. Still, I think even a faithful reader may find this book a bit repetitive after the first twenty or thirty pages.  My advice to the author: Use your interest in poetic forms to your best advantage, and diversify your themes and subjects. There is so much you can say from a perspective of faith about nature, your family and friends, social issues, even your career.  Don’t be afraid to bring in more details of your life and less of the language of praise, and your next book may be even better.

I am thrilled that this reader saw my praise of God so prominently in my poetry. If that is my one-note song, I’ve succeeded in doing what God has called me to do. I’ll keep singing that song until the day I die. To those struggling with depression, I want to clearly reveal the love and hope of Jesus so that they might one day praise Him, too, for being the Light in their darkness.

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I Am the Moon

I am the moon
shining the light of the sun
into a dark world

Some nights
I shine exquisitely bright

Tonight I wane
keeping the light to myself
I need it all to survive
for now

But fear not
I shall wax again

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For yesterday’s Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub, Grace is calling for poems about the moon personified. This is what I came up with.

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Resurfacing in Blue

I should have seen it coming
this sense of feeling blue
Delving into trials of the past
to write a memoir that’s true

I’m doubtful that this venture
is worth the time and pain
Will I survive this process
where no secrets will remain

Or will there be some truths
odd feelings buried deep
that I’ll find I cannot share
but to myself I’ll keep

It’s easy to write stories
of cerulean skies above
What I want to convey at last
is God’s gracious love

The writing is not easy
for it has been said
Where no tears in the writer
the prose is surely dead

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The Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub today is to write about something blue. I didn’t really have time today, but this poem kept nagging at me, so here it is. I hope to get back to dVerse later to do some reading. Do pop over and see what other poems of the great blue you will find.

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Assumptions of Bias

During the past week watching the news and reading Facebook posts about the violence and racial tensions in this country, I was struck by the assumptions made by some who protested the loudest. One such assumption—a  statement I read more than once—was that white people are afraid of the big black man, and that’s the problem.

I would argue that this assumption contributes to the problem of racial tension and is not true because it is an over generalization. All white people cannot be lumped into one set of beliefs or viewpoints any more than all black people can. Many white people, as well as many black people, would prefer to be part of the solution.

As I pondered all of this, I was reminded of something that happened to me just a month or so ago. We were having mandatory “Implicit Bias” training at work. It’s not the first time we’ve had this training, but this time something happened that made me think about how sometimes our assumptions about implicit bias can be part of the problem. We focus on and assume bias where diversity and camaraderie might flourish if we didn’t try so hard to see the negative.

The presenter was talking about the online Harvard Implicit Bias Project tests. I’ve taken several of these tests before so I raised my hand to offer my unique experience.

“I’ve taken the race Implicit Bias test three times,” I said, “and each time it has revealed I have a strong preference for African Americans. I have no explanation for why that is because I really only know a few African Americans.”

The presenter thanked me for chiming in and started talking about how we don’t always know where these biases come from. Then she said,” That was very brave of you to admit that.”

”Wait,” I replied, “I think you misunderstood me. Why would it be brave for me to say I had a bias in favor of, strongly in favor of, blacks?”

“Oh,” she said,” you said against.”

My boss, who was sitting at the same table as me, replied,” No she didn’t, she said in favor of.”

Later I talked to several people who were on the other side of the room and they all said they clearly heard me say what I actually said. But the presenter—who spends much her time talking, thinking, and studying about implicit bias—heard what she assumed any white woman would say, that she was biased against blacks.

I share this because I think it is so important not to assume we know what others think about difficult issues like this. We have to stop making broad general assumptions about whole groups of people whose only thing in common might be the color of their skin. Human beings—and each individual human being—is so much more complex than that.

The second presenter at this training had commented at the beginning that we didn’t need to talk about religion or spirituality, because that isn’t really very important for people in Oregon. I found this comment odd because it was another inaccurate assumption. For me, my faith is very important and it is the teachings of Jesus that inform much of my belief about others. It is my understanding that we are all created in God’s image, no matter what color our skin, that helps me in dealing with and accepting those who are different from me.

D.C. Talk does a great song called Colored People that I want to end with. I’m linking to YouTube because often embedded videos don’t work on this free blog. I encourage you to follow the link and give it a listen.

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Seeking Truth

Words matter. Our choice of words, whether speaking or writing, makes a difference.

And words have meaning. That’s what dictionaries are for—to tell us what words mean. When we try to use words to mean something other than what they really mean, it causes confusion.

Sometimes people do this on purpose. One such misuse of a word that I have encountered lately is the use of the word “true” to substitute for “believe.” A person will say “such and such is true for me” when what they really mean is “I believe such and such.”

According to the dictionary, the word “true” means “being in accordance with the actual state or conditions; conforming to reality or fact.” Truth is not relative and is not affected by what any one person believes. Truth is external, and belief is internal, in origin.

Many years ago, when I was suffering from major clinical depression, there were a number of things I believed about myself. I believed I would always be depressed based on how long I had been depressed already and my doctor telling me I would always have bouts of major depression for the rest of my life. I also believed I would never be able to hold down a full-time job. I believed no one liked me and that I was worthless. In the parlance of relativism, these things were true for me.

But they weren’t true. They aren’t true and they never were, no matter how deeply I believed them.

And trust me, I deeply believed these things about myself.

But here I am, 18 years later, and I haven’t had a bout of major depression since God showed me how to be free. I’ve had the same good-paying full-time job for almost 12 years, and I had a different full-time job that paved the way for this one for 5 1/2 years before that. On top of my full-time job, I’m actively involved in my church and Bible Study Fellowship, have self-published two poetry books, and take care of my family. And I have a lot of friends, people who like me (and some who even love me).

As I look back over the past 20 years, I see God’s hand in my life, lifting me up and leading me to see the truth. I believe that. But it’s not my belief that makes it true. In fact, I could be dead wrong, but I don’t believe I am.

Whether God is real and cares about His creation enough to do all I believe He has for us is either true or not. It can’t be true for me and not for you, or vice versa. Truth is. As humans, our greatest purpose is to seek the truth. To say that truth is relative—that what is objectively true for me is different from what is objectively true for you—negates that essential human drive to know truth, to know our Creator, to know where we come from, and to know our reason for being.

At any rate, that’s what I believe.

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I’m a Finalist!

I’m so excited! One of my poems is one of three finalists in the Published Poetry category of the Cascade Writing Contest put on by Oregon Christian Writers. I entered three poems as individual entries. I look forward to receiving the feedback on all three, but am also looking forward to the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in August when I will find out if I win.

The poem that is a finalist was published on this blog and is titled The Philosophy of Choice. The other two that I entered were more overtly “Christian” but this is the one that made it through to the final round. This supports what I’ve been learning lately about my writing—when I write honestly from the heart about hard subjects, people respond.

And a special thanks to Brian Miller, whose prompt led to the writing of this poem.

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Speaking of Gold

She saw in nature’s
beauty and majesty her first
glimpse of the Divine, swathed in green
amidst the beauty is
an echo of gold

The home He gave her
turned out to be the hardest
to hold onto as the hue
of the forbidden fruit came to
tempt her and take hold

The loss of her
innocence came much too early
even as the green leaf’s
sprout was still on the tree and a
serpent offered a lovely flower

She could have walked away but
then there was only
nothing to lose or so
said the deceiver with an
invitation of an hour

to spare for then
it would have fallen, the leaf
as the temptation subsides
and yet that was not to
be the fate of the leaf

Temptation bowed to evil, so
rich and lovely Eden
survived, but humanity sank
deep into despair so as to
succumb to grief

Now we long so
earnestly for the Light to dawn
to know where love goes
or see love come down
and heal our souls to
see the break of a new day

A day where nothing
more precious than transparent gold
will pave the way so we can
in Eden forever stay

_______________________________

The Meeting the Bar prompt at dVerse Poets Pub today is a Golden Shovel poem, which is a poem in which you take one or more lines from a favorite poem and use those lines to be the end-line words in a new poem. The result is that if you read down the right margin of the poem you will see the original line or lines. I chose Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost and used the entire poem. This poem was a big challenge for me because I discovered that you can’t really write a Golden Shovel poem unless you use enjambment, which I have a hard time with usually, but I think I made it work.

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Living Water

I’m a prickly pear cactus
living in this hot Mojave Desert

They call my home
Death Valley for good reason

Life-giving water is scarce
but I know how to survive

When the rains come
I store up this treasure
deep in my veins

It sustains me when
the inevitable dry days come

I’m a Christian
living in this spiritually dry land

They call my home
earth, a fool’s paradise

Life-giving water is scarce
but I know how to survive

When I hear God’s Word
I store up this treasure
deep in my soul

It sustains me when
the inevitable dry days come

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For the Poetics prompt at dVerse Poets Pub today, Mish wants us to write poetry inspired by the Southwest, by the desert. I love the desert—the warmth and dryness appeal to me in a way the green and rain of the Pacific Northwest (where I live now) never could.

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Set Free

She drove away from the pizza place
joyful in the knowledge that she had been set free.

No dark cloud appeared.

She realized she was humming along,
tapping her foot to the beat.

As she waited for her pizza to go,
Bad Company played on the radio.

One day, she stopped to get a pizza
on her way home from work.

She felt a weight lifted and joy return.

When she awoke, she knelt and prayed
for the strength to forgive.

One night she dreamed of forgiveness
and knew it was a message from God.

She pondered taking her own life
because she thought she was forever broken.

She spent years in darkness and anger.

She was never the same; whenever she heard Bad Company
a dark cloud would descend upon her.

Afterwards, he drove her home
and left her broken upon her doorstep.

Bad Company played on the radio.

He assaulted her in the front seat of his Lincoln.

He asked if she wanted to go to a party
and she said yes because he seemed nice.

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The NaPoWriMo prompt today is to write a story in reverse. I couldn’t help but turn each line of this semi-autobiographical story into a verse.

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My Word Wall

If all you knew of me was my poetry then what would you see?

If we had never met would my words alone let you understand my regret?

And would that be all you’d see, would I seem to you sad and small behind my word wall?

Do I reveal my joy in the verse that I employ or do you find my words simply annoy?

If you knew me in the flesh and personally would you be surprised by my poetry?

My word wall and pen keep you out or let you in depending on the mood I’m in.

Yet always there’s my God, intertwined, some think it odd, without Him I’m a fraud.

But there’s so much more to me that I’ll never let you see despite your solemn plea.

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Decided to write a second poem for today, perhaps because I’m a little sad that NaPoWriMo2016 is coming to an end soon. This is my take on long-line poetry.

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