Laugh Lines {A Lullaby}


Several years back, well before I became a mother, I sat in a middle school library helping one of my English language learners with her homework. She was a good student but fortunately wasn’t as obsessive as some of the students in her home country who sometimes jumped out of windows if they didn’t make the grade. But there was another kind of perfectionism creeping in. As we got talking, she told me about her cousin’s obsession, how she prized her smooth, porcelain skin so much that she decided, in order to keep it wrinkle-free, she must not smile. Continue reading

Just Two Eyes to See

I pivot the tiny screen on its hinges and almost slam it away in the ceiling of the minivan. “Don’t even ask,” I tell them, “we’re keeping our eyes on the real world today.”

I’m lecturing by now, a woman with a diatribe, “There’s so much beauty around us….” A song is running through my head. I think of the lyrics I’ve accidentally quoted: “There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see but everywhere I go I’m looking.”

I’ve communed with God through those words and ones like them, plain-speaking words that roll out of my mouth a decade and a half after the artist up and went to heaven in a chariot. I want to be looking. I want us to be looking.

I pull the lever to reverse out of the driveway. Our wheels are rolling and my firstborn blurts it out: “The world is beautiful even though it’s broken.”

I am stunned for a moment. I expected to be arguing with him about the little silver screen. I am quiet, nodding at him, my foot on the brake. My eyes go blurry before I focus and take a mental picture to pack away as a keepsake.

We drive out of our little town and take the scenic route through the farmland on our way to the doctor’s office in suburbia. The kids are quiet, not even asking for the radio. They are looking.

I roll down the windows as I turn onto the road that traces the edge of a river. An old white barn gives way to gravity and lets the shingles sink low. Splintered cornstalks shake like tambourines in the breeze. A gnarled wire fence crouches in prairie grass. One, two, three, four and more. We count the spiraled haystacks.

And then we see it. On top of the haystack nearest to us, just past the claws of the fence, two eyes stare us down. I look in my rearview, press my brake and click on the flashers. The kids hold their awe to a whisper. The engine idles at a low hum.

The fine-feathered fellow stays still, not paused on a screen, but steady, fixed in real time. Right there on the river road, at these exact coordinates on real earth, I study him with out even the glare of a window to cloud the view.

Strapping chest dappled white and brown. Ochre beak tipped in fashionable gray. Batik print detailed on brawny wings. Football player neck. He eyeballs us from his perch, the self-assured bird.

There in all that brokenness sits bold-faced beauty, and each of us with just our two eyes to see.

The Chance to Play Unplugged

The bassist leans forward and presses a button on his laptop keyboard to start up some YouTube sensation, two oddballs singing the praises of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Across from him, the big kid guitarist whips out his smartphone and tucks it away again, a tick of habit, and then closes his eyes to snooze off the sleep deprivation from the usual Saturday night club gig.

A fork full of waffle helps the fried chicken go down. Ridiculous makes hilarious. We all chuckle on the greenroom couches. And so the bandmate clicks to replay.

I check the clock, the ancient variety with the round face and hypnotizing hands. And then the saxophonist, a philosopher of sorts, turns to my husband to ask what’s going to become of the book industry with all this new media.

We talk of folded page corners, notes penciled in margins, and the cracking sound a book makes when its covers are pulled back like shoulders stretching to the spine. I think of our little library at home whose shelves are lined with the Harvard Classics I rescued from a dumpster. Talk turns to end times and conspiracy theories, and I scoot out to the edge of my seat. I vow it then, to become a book hoarder, to have something in hand in case the digital grid fizzles and goes kaput. And, you know, part of me wants it to. Maybe then the potential of face to face won’t be spent staring at a screen.

Soon, our friend, the worship leader, comes in to pray over the band, that we will make more than a joyful noise, that we will play with excellence. It’s a quick amen and we’re stepping out into the dark hall backstage. I put my hand in the bend of my husband’s elbow and let him lead me to my mic on his way to the drums. I squint in the beam of a spotlight.

Across the platform, the newcomer grand piano glows in the colored stage lighting, promising to rival the usual keyboard. The mics are hot and ready. The electric guitar revs. The snare whips. The saxophone whirs.

And then something pops loud, something unseen.

It kills the rainbow of lights, the white noise of speakers, the slight feedback of amplifiers. A few scattered lights compete with the dark. Tech guys scurry, tugging on wires, twisting plug-ins. I look past the hundreds of chairs, only half of them filled, now stuck in the shadows of the power outage. At the faraway entrance, natural light and gawkers peek into the black. They stop their feet at the doors.

I set my mic back in its stand and catch a wink from my husband, the only unpaid musician in the band. He turned away his share of the Sunday morning money for a higher reward, to let the holy rhythm rush through him, to mouth the words and express his heart right on beat. The partial power outage may be our little dream come true, this whole mess of excellence finally unplugged.

The piano’s lid prop points up like an old church steeple. I picture us all gathered around the instrument, blending our voices in mid-air, hearing them resonate as one.

There are skitters and whispers behind. I turn to see the lead pastor in a panic, looking for the culprit. Nothing’s working, not switching wires, not flipping switches on the circuit board, not restarting things in the soundbooth.  To me this is a sign to go with it, to let the people be more than an audience, more than swaying spectators whose voices have no chance of being heard over the booming speakers. This is our chance to let them be a congregation. Minutes are ticking by. The pastor sends the worship leader out with a prayer to stall for time. His voice is small in the sizable space.

In the balcony, there is a laying of hands on the soundboard. I cringe. I know God will probably give them over to their desires like He did when Israel begged for a king so they could fit in among the nations, so they could be relevant.

Another unexplainable click and pop and then something that sounds like an old slide projector. Red, yellow, green, blue. The lights cycle through as the system reboots. Our opportunity is lost. A tap of the mic. Check- 1, 2, 3. A strum of the acoustic. The rumble of the bass. People applaud as they crowd in. And someone onstage sings out in a farcical vibrato the cliche meant for concert halls: “The show must go on.”

Snowdrift Hymns

Tiny notes hammered on the hidden harp float up into my little ears and flutter about like snowflakes looking for a place to land. My daddy’s voice comes in on lead. Reverb passes through walls like the resurrected Christ. Warm in this fortress, I open my eyes and squint at sunlight magnified over bright snow.

Years of Sunday mornings I wake up this way, with the sound of hymns as my alarm clock, and smile as I stretch out of my pilled-up nightgown and slip into a smocked dress to head to our gathering place. There in the stream of light filtering through stained glass, I click my buckled shoes on linoleum and watch Daddy move his hands like a gust of wind swooping and bouncing the words out to us in 3/4 time.

I look down at page 236 in Great Hymns of the Faith, follow the path of the notes on the lines of the treble clef, and listen to my mom turn them into music on the church piano. I hear steadfast men bellowing bass notes and graceful women with their shivering vibratos.

I sing with them.

Slowly the feathery fragments find one another, waft on bursts of winter wind and drift their way into piles, each individual with its delicate symmetry joining with the one next to it.

I know these words by heart already and so I slide the green fabric-covered hymnal into the wooden slot on the back of the pew. I can recite the musical poetry, but I don’t yet know what these words will mean to me when someday I will walk through the halls of another church and wonder if He can really forgive me for all the ways I’ve wronged Him.

The choir’s harmonies will swirl in the air and those words will drift together, phrase upon phrase, note upon note, and they will pile on the years of Sunday morning truths sung out, altogether heaped into a strong fort of grace that saved a wretch like me.

(We revel in the hymns in our house. I want my kids to know them by heart, too. Click below to hear my baby girl singing her favorite tune.)

Starfields: A Song for Epiphany

“To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coat-tails and the heavens hailing your heart….” -from The Journals of Jim Elliot (Image Credit: Blue Boabab Tree by Jennifer Moffett)

The night sky was free of clouds
The village fields held no fire
The people sang their pain out loud
There they danced and never tired
Off the map and through the mountains
I stumbled on that place
And found a harvest ripe with stars
In the fields of outer space

He led me through the starfields
He kept me looking up
He led me through the starfields
The Keeper of them all

I was beset with bittersweetness
At the fencepost where I stood
‘Cause knowing how way leads on to way
I had to say goodbye for good
Then I looked up and saw it streaming
I was cradled in its bend
In the dark someone was watching
Though He could not be seen

He led me through the starfields
He kept me looking up
He led me through the starfields
The Keeper of them all

We stand embraced in the shadows
Where the heavens hail our hearts
We turn from things that do not matter
And give ourselves again to God
I hope one day, He’ll grant us children
So we can lead them through
And pass along the stories
Of what we have seen Him do

We’ll lead them through the starfields
We’ll keep them looking up
We’ll lead them through the starfields
We’ll help them ponder God

He will lead us through the starfields
He will keep us looking up
He will lead us through the starfields
The Maker of them all

© 2004, Darcy Wiley

Inspired by personal experience & the January 16, 1951 entry in The Journals of Jim Elliot“I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God–what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him. Mayhap in mercy He shall give me a host of children that I may lead through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies whose fingers’ ends set them to burning. But if not, if only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His eyes–ah, then, not stars nor children shall matter, only Himself.”