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Archive for January, 2010

Unintentional

Every once in a while I still write poetry. This poem was inspired by all the land for sale between Leesburg and Albany, GA. Pecan orchards, open fields, planted pines and untouched forests sport commercial real estate signage all along the way. When I looked up the properties online, I found all sorts of promises that this is one of the “fastest-growing counties in the state!” Meanwhile, there are new commercial buildings next door to these lots that are already vacated and for lease or for sale.

As more and more farm land is divided into lots by private developers, I wonder who is growing the food that will be sold in all these shiny new grocery stores. I wonder how they will pay the utility bills in the summer time, as the asphalt around the buildings absorbs the sweltering sunshine and the puny ornamental trees that will never provide shade struggle to survive their first season. I wonder if the jobs created by the “blossoming” industry will actually improve anybody’s quality of life. Will the single mothers get to pick up their children from school, or will they have to work nights in the name of survival while someone else tucks their babies into bed? Will the immigrant workers who came to the U.S. for a better life have money left to send home? Was the produce they sold grown in their country of origin, shipped thousands of miles just so Americans could have “fresh” grapes in the middle of winter?

I don’t think real estate agents and commercial developers intend to do harm to the land and the people. I think they must believe they are doing good, at least on some level. But over and over again small family-owned businesses are pushed out of rural communities by big box chain stores, and residents have to find transportation farther and farther away just to meet basic needs for employment and sustenance. To keep this sort of culture going…well, I’ll get down off my soap box before this becomes a full-blown rant and let my poem tell the rest of the story.

And so I give you:

Highway 19 South of Leesburg, GA
January 2010

For sale
Second hand
Development
Commercial land

Farm to school
Farm to church
Farm to hospital
Farm in the lurch

Profit margins
Forest bargains
Will divide
You decide

Pecan grove
Muscadine
Crape myrtle
Planted pine

Open pasture
Closing day
Invest in progress
Widen the highway

Eminent domain
Impending disaster
Goes up fast
Comes down faster

Fast food
Big box
New, cheap shoes over
Old, dirty socks

Fast-growing
Land of opportunity
Unintentional destruction
Of another small-town community

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There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.
–Philippians 1:29

You know how it is when someone says something to you that you already know, but you’ve never heard it put quite that way? That’s how I felt when I was reading Philippians earlier tonight. I’ve been mulling this over for quite some time now. The call to suffering as a Christian is an idea that always bothered me before, but as I see it come to fruition I’m coming to accept it as part of God’s grace.

As an alcoholic, suffering is something I’m not fond of. A friend of mine used to say that, for an alcoholic, the antidote to a bad feeling is a good feeling. I have an innate need to replace discomfort with something that seems more comfortable. My response to suffering used to be a nice stiff drink. Now I indulge in all sorts of other things to escape dealing with my problems: work, obsessive cleaning, computer games, shopping…but at some point I realize that none of these things is going to take the sting away and so I’m learning a new set of responses.

On Monday last week I wanted to complain all day long. Everyone was doing everything wrong! I was preparing the community lunch with a couple of brand new visitors as helpers. Wouldn’t it have been a tremendous orientation to life in community if I had complained about the other Koinonians all morning long? By God’s grace, not a single complaint made its way from my brain to my lips. Each time I wanted to complain, I prayed instead. I gave the issue over to Jesus, let him have the whole mess, and I went about my business with as much joy as I could muster.

I’d like to say that my week got much better because of that experience. But the truth is that I stayed grumpy all week long. My head was filled with self-righteous, judgmental thoughts. And I didn’t always manage to exercise as much restraint as I did that Monday morning.

For the past six months or so I’ve felt drawn to the story of Job. He suffered terribly, but always turned to the Lord for solutions. Even when others attacked his faith, he returned to God with his complaints.

Did you know that God actually longs for us to bring our complaints to him? I always think I need to figure it out on my own, then just run things by him in a quick prayer so that my brilliant plans can be verified. But Philippians 1:29 tells me that the world will not always think I’m brilliant. In fact, the people of the world are going to persecute me, and they’ll do it even more so when I declare that I’m living for Jesus. The persecution will be so great that at some times I won’t be able to figure out a solution.

And so here is where the gift comes in: in those times when I have nothing left, when everything I do turns out to be one big disappointment after another, in order for the spirit to survive in me I must rely on God. I must leave all my troubles at the foot of the cross, and when I release it all to Jesus’ grace, I can receive the gift of salvation. Here and now, he rescues me from the troubles of this world, and I can live in peace.

Even as I write this, I wonder if I’m completely losing my mind…but it’s true and so I’ll say it. Bring on the suffering, Lord! I will endure as much as you want me to have, because I’m not alone and I’m not afraid.

The suffering in my life may not sound like such a big deal: People blame me for all sorts of things that aren’t actually my fault. Others expect too much of me. I expect too much of myself. I don’t get to see my kids enough and when I finally make time for us to be together they do nothing but whine and fight with me and each other. My husband vents his frustrations on me instead of going to the people he needs to talk with. I am a work coordinator here at Koinonia, and the people I work with refuse or forget to do what I ask.

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Love is…

I’m trying something new on this blog tonight.

I like to write. But I also like to make art. Collages mostly. I have some rules for myself about my collages: The materials cannot be new, other than paintbrushes and glue and fasteners of other sorts (like screws or wire…I’ll share photos of some of my metal collages some time soon). The only place I will buy materials is at the thrift store, and generally the items cannot cost more than $2. Every once in a while I allow myself a splurge. Otherwise, all materials are strictly free.

And so, I wind up making art out of things that most people would throw away, or objects that would be left laying on the ground in a parking lot, on a sidewalk, or along the dirt roads of southern GA. One day I was standing outside of Koinonia’s laundry room talking with Sally Ann. We both noticed a scrap of metal laying on the ground. I picked it up and she offered to throw it away for me. “Oh no,” I responded. “I’ll save it for my art.” She shook her head and waved her hands at me in exasperation. “Good Lord, Sarah!” Some of the folks from around here don’t know what to make of my fascination with other people’s trash.

The piece that follows is a gift for my friend Elizabeth. She is struggling with depression right now, and so as I worked I prayed for healing for her spirit. She also spends lots of time with my kids, and so I love the way that the word childhood played into the piece. It started with a poem from a little booklet I found in some things a former Koinonia member left behind. The book was filled with cliched poems about God and cheesy little prayers. The one I used was entitled “Love is…” and was inspired by 1 Corinthians 13. I also have a mini Gideon Bible that has a torn cover (my girls nearly destroyed it while playing with some friends one day) and so I like to use passages from this damaged volume. I find it interesting that the Gideons decided to use the word “charity” instead of “love” in their translation. The frames were half price at Goodwill, and the images came from a second-hand book about exotic goldfish.

So, without further ado, here are some photos of my handiwork. You can click on the images to see the detail in greater focus.

Remember that God is love, and Love is…all you need! I hope in this new year that you are filled with inspiration and wonder. Happy 2010!

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