Friday, November 19, 2010

Work: What is it good for?

I'm noticing it's been 10 days since I last put something up here.  Where have I been?  Working.   I teach for the English department at Concordia University.  I remember the first time I was shown around campus right after I'd moved to town from Georgia, still not quite sure what I was doing in Nebraska but certain there was something I was supposed to find here.  (Sidenote:  I was both shocked and encouraged that there was a sculpture of a naked man on campus--I often hold my office hours there if the weather is nice.)  Now I know what it was that brought me here:  the long string of prayers I'd released into the night skies like anxious kites waving above my bed as I held Nora-- waiting for the monitor she wore to sound off signaling to me that her breathing had stopped for longer than 20 seconds -- these prayers had been answered.  Nora was off the monitor, I was finally near family, and had found a farmhouse like the one I'd dreamed of for so long, even down to the windmill.  When I walked around the house the first time, Nora on my hip and wet leaves clinging to my boots, everything was dead and damp but I could still see the life here.  I peeked through the window into the kitchen and could smell cookies and bread.  I saw the hardwood floors and knew how many times I'd wash them.  I saw the apple trees, asleep at that time, and counted the apples I'd peel, mix with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and freeze for apple crisp later.   I looked into the long expanse of Nebraska fields surrounding the house and felt the breath I'd been holding for so long finally released in that space.  Air.  Sky.  Dirt.  Breath.  Home.  And it all came about from a "random" conversation in a combine between my landlord (he grew up here in this house) and my stepdad's mom.  (Well, prayers are often answered this way, yes?)

And more prayers were answered.  I spent a semester teaching and learning poetry with 12 Concordia students every Wednesday night for a semester.  I'd been with Nora 24 hours a day since she'd been born, and for the first time in a year, I found myself brave enough to leave her side, brave enough to begin talking about language when words had seemed so frivolous for so long.  It seemed that getting Nora to where she was had taken almost everything I had--from the discovery of a blood clotting disorder at the beginning of the pregnancy that meant two injections a day for 9 months for me (into my stomach, no less--I'm definitely over my fear of needles now), Nora not gaining weight and me finally finding someone who could explain why (not just, "you are under too much stress and not producing enough milk"), to her stop-breathing episodes, the frantic CPR, the monitor, the worry.  I knew all I had to do was wait.  The doctor had said 6 months and she would grow out of it.  And we had made it.  She was in the clear.  Beautiful, strong, brave Nora.

I was astonished to be teaching again, like I'd entered some secret room made just for me.  (I don't mean it to sound so self-centered--it was simply a very precious and crucial and necessary place for me, one I knew God had brought me to as a way to bring me closer to Him and as a way to recover from such an intense year).   The final night of our class, we gave a poetry reading at the Gallery, and I drove home with the sun setting and my heart bursting like sequins, and the May air smelling like life could spring instantaneously from a seed that you'd held for too long in your palm if you'd just uncurl your fingers.  I pulled up the gravel drive, walked in the door and was told to go look behind the house.  It was dark by then and the moon was walking its way up through the trees.  While my stepdad Mike and my mom had been there watching Nora, Mike had tilled a patch of ground for my first garden.  I walked up to it, this big, dark square of earth in rows and mounds and I got on my knees and cried.  I thanked God for hearing me and pulling me ashore to this good ground.  Everything, I mean EVERYTHING that night was telling me to live, that I was ok.  It was time to stop letting worry be my work--to drop that exhausting and worthless weight.  It was time to get down to my real work, to give, to listen, to grow.  I knew for certain then that all I had to do was ask to be shown the work He wanted me to do, and He would give it to me whether it be the work of being Nora's mom, an English professor at Concordia, a house keeper (in the truest sense) or an occasionally successful gardener.

But before I fall into the trap of thinking I am "earning my keep" with God here, this passage occurs to me:

"Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?  Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he hath sent."  John 6:28-29

Start there, Lisa.



  1. Oh Lisa, that must have been so intense! I confess, I teared up a little, and I feel proud to have such a brave, sweet, creative, intelligent, and humble woman to call my friend. I'll never forget that you were one of the first to reach out to me when I first came to Rifle. I remember sitting by you (trying to hide) as you played the piano at Alan's birthday party. Nora choose well, and bless you both.
    Love Maja

  2. Wow. Beautiful. You are amazing. Yes--I'm still working on quitting my old job as worrier. As I "clear" each stage, there is a deeper one waiting. It is hard, beautiful work. It's learning to be free.

  3. Thank you both. I think the one thing I forgot to make clear here was how everything I went through was also necessary work, given to me by God. At the time as a first-time mom, I was so far from living in that faith--I was simply frantic. Eventually, as I prayed and leaned into Him more each day (and night--I was awake a lot, so prayer was a constant companion), I was strengthened. I knew He would never give me something I couldn't handle--through Him. That's the secret. I also knew that it wasn't simply a matter of saying, "God will take care of it" and putting Nora in bed and walking away. There was work to do. She needed someone to watch over her constantly, and I was well aware of my part in relation to whether or not she would thrive.

    I read today that becoming a parent is a direct route to learning selflessness. And, yes, my needs, everything--teaching, music, writing--they fell away to expose this other part of me--the mom who would literally do anything, give anything for her child. And this is how I understand God to love us. Love without end.

  4. This was a beautiful post. Thank you for baring and sharing your heart. You are a strong, faithful woman to have gone through what you have and come out to the woman you are today. I'm thrilled to see how God is working in your life. He's pretty amazing like that. :)

    By the way, I shared the last two sentences of your above comment on Facebook (quoting my sources, of course).

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  6. I don't know what happened with that last comment. I'm new at this...definitely killed the blog-mood right now.

    What I wanted to say is this: I am honored (and a little bit full-of-myself if I'm going to be completely honest) to have been a member of that first poetry class. It was historic, Lisa, if only in our own little books.