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necessary whispers

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Month

September 2015

Creative Writing: The Piñata Who Lived.

Piñata_in_San_Diego

Creative writing prompt: Write a poem about a child’s birthday party from the perspective of the piñata.

The Piñata Who Lived, by Jill Szoo Wilson

A pinprick deafening unsuspecting ears—

Exploding red, which first meant joy to spread,

Now shriveled rolls of breath-stained shreds appear

Amongst unlacèd shoes whose feet are stuck with dread.

Ebullient face paint sticking to the clown

In rows of water dripping round his nose,

A mural bright with mismatched colors drowned

Atop an ornery flower meant to hose.

Emblazoned candles flaming in delight

Survey a windless air whose fleeting state

Gives space to tip-toe down themselves in spite

Of inhalation drawn to extirpate.

Through eyes of hanging horse with sugar wedged

Deflated fetes are close disasters hedged!

Jill Szoo Wilson

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Is God Working?

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It has been difficult for me to write lately. I am not exactly sure why but my mind has been bifurcated; my emotions have felt disjointed and my patience has been altogether broken. I sit down to write and instead of waiting peacefully for an idea to shape itself into an image, I become agitated by the sheer whiteness of the virtual page before me. The way my cursor blinks like its tapping its foot, the vastness of the white box itself and the fact that my favorite writing music sounds more shrill than usual . . . it is like sitting a little too close to a camp fire whose sparks keep escaping the blaze and landing impetuously on my skin. Annoying, a little painful and seemingly purposeless.

I am grieving the loss of my dog. Believe me, I wrote that sentence with a rolling of my eyes. Not because she does not deserve to be grieved and not because I fancy myself to be above sadness: because I do not feel like grieving.

I am not an overly emotional person. Sure, the older I get the easier it is for me to live in moments and be emotionally present . . . but I am not a big hugger. I do not often allow anyone to see me cry or to comfort me if they do. I am not a fluffy dog and the color pink kind of person. I am emotionally available for others, but not one to emote much for myself.

So, this process of grieving is very uncomfortable to me. One thing I take comfort in are the words C.S. Lewis wrote in his book A Grief Observed as he grieved the loss of his beloved wife, Joy. Before I go on, I MUST make it 100% clear that I do not compare the loss of a dog to the loss of a spouse or family member. Even so, there is a measure of grief surrounding me and these words describe it perfectly:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

I can’t help but feel there is a bigger grief unfolding.

I often feel, then believe, and then repent of something specific: a feeling of purposelessness.

For some reason, I feel a little like a car whose gasoline is being siphoned because I am not sure what I am supposed to be doing on any given day. About a year and a half ago I quit my job so I could write and then perform a one-woman show. I am happy to say that the play is written, it is currently sitting on my desktop in its 20th draft form and I am positive this play will find a home. Hopefully, many homes during its life. Also, the play is no longer a one-woman show. Now, it is a four- person play that tells the story of Eva Mozes Kor, who survived Auschwitz as a 10-year-old girl and later in life chose to forgive her tormentors. Through the play I also tell my own story of surviving childhood sexual abuse and working to forgive my own perpetrators.   I am proud of the piece. It is a powerful play.

My initial plan was to perform this play, which is entitled Throwing Stones, in many venues all over the world, in conjunction with a speech I have written under the same title. The two were to work in tandem and my objective was simple: enter a global dialogue on the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness has the power to break the chains that fear, anger, false guilt and mistaken self-identity use to strangle those who were once victims. Even if the offense was not as flashy as surviving Aushcwitz or walking through the perils of sexual abuse. When it comes to victims and perpetrators there are no degrees of harm that the soul suffers: a wounded soul is a wounded soul.

You can probably see that this is where my passion lies. You might even say my heart lies somewhere in the pages of this play because I understand the power of the message.

For now, I am in a season of waiting. I am waiting for a theatre, a director, a producer, a cast. Waiting for guidance and wisdom while also purposing to be proactive in my thought-life and in finding doors on which to knock . . .

Waiting. Patience. Stillness.

No one ever told me waiting feels so like fear.

What I am beginning to sense is that I am grieving the loss of my dog, fearing the loss of my dream to see this play produced, feeling confused about why I am 37 and unemployed but fuller than a hot air balloon with ideas, energy, passion, talent and desire to DO something meaningful with my life. What exactly is that? I know it might sound crazy but I think my little Duchess was fulfilling a sense of purpose for me. I loved her as much as I could possibly love a dog. I used to tell her all the time, “I love you as much as I could possibly love you. No more and never less.” And, perhaps because she was blind, she became second nature to me. She depended on me for more than an average dog might: I had to tell her to “step up” when we reached a set of stairs or a curb. I had to be her eyes and warn her when she was nearing a danger. “Careful,” I would say. At the sound of my warning she would stop, back up and then slowly move in a different direction.

I had to let her know when her water bowl was filled, “Come here, Duchess, let me show you,” and then I would flick the water with my hand so she could hear its contents.

Duchess trusted me. The teamwork with which we moved throughout our days together gave me a feeling of pride, contentment and joy.   It was an effortless dance of mutual respect.

I wish I trusted God as much as my dog trusted me. I often watched Duchess maneuver her world while listening to my voice. She felt safe when I was in the room. In fact, whenever she walked into a room and could not hear my presence, she would lift her nose into the air and walk the entire room until her nose bumped into me. Then, she would sniff my legs and lay at my feet. She depended on me to love her actively.

Perhaps, this bigger sense of grief I feel is a lack of trust. I know God is there—here—and I know His plans for me are good. He tells me that he will never leave me nor forsake me and I know this with my mind. And yet, I wish I could hear him more clearly. Heck, I would even settle for lifting my nose and smelling Him! Just…something tangible to let me know that my purpose and the dreams with which I am filled are not heading toward danger. A divine, “Careful!” would be very helpful right now!

I do not doubt His provision, His goodness, His plan. But I do doubt myself and I am scared that I have not, will not, cannot do enough, or be enough, to advocate for this play and, by extension, the message itself and Eva herself.

I guess I am feeling a little lost right now; grieving the loss of my sense of direction; grieving that daily experience of seeing, first hand, what it looks like when clear guidance is given and received; the give and take of love and trust. Grieving a lessening of confidence while sensing a waning expectation.

Eva would say, “Never, ever give up.” Jesus would say, “I have a plan to prosper you and not to harm you.” (I should have put Jesus in front of Eva, but you get the idea). Duchess would say, “I’m here. Are you there, too? Oh, good.”

We don’t always feel our faith. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:1:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Even in the absence of feeling my faith, I absolutely believe that God has put me where I am for a reason and that He will use this weird, still, boring, quiet time to lead me to where I need to go. I do believe that in my mind. But I am having a difficult time trusting it in my heart. I do have confidence in His plan, but the sound of the ticking clock is deafening, and when the evidence of that plan seems as barren and dry as a tumbleweed-laden dirt road in Kansas, I even begin to doubt what I know.

Duchess had faith. Her mind didn’t have the capacity to reason through my whereabouts. She simply came into a room trusting in my presence; and when at first blush, her senses didn’t perceive me, she kept her nose up in the air and continued to scour the room until she could lay successfully at my feet. Duchess loved me.

And I loved her back.

If I could love Duchess, a dog, so much as to constantly watch over her for the sake of making sure she was moving in the right direction, how much more is my Father in Heaven actively involved in the direction of my life?

“Step up. Careful. Let me show you.”

Jill Szoo Wilson

Photo Credit: Safwan Dahoul

What Is Love?

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What Is Love?

Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy; love does not boast, it is not puffed up; love does not behave rudely, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth; love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

The word “is” indicates the present. “Was” is in the past. “Is” is in the present. “Is to come” or “will be,” expresses the future. If you read the scripture above once more and emphasize each occurrence of the word “is,” the immediacy of the nature of love will highlight itself in your mind.

Love is now.

When you love someone, whether they are alive on this earth or if they have passed away, your love is now. Love is not like a wisp of smoke that rises from a cigarette and then disappears into the air. It is not elusive. Love is constant, more like the stars that peer down at us from above: whether the sunshine or the moon hangs in the sky, the stars do not move. They are ever-fixed, as Shakespeare says. Love has the enduring quality of the stars as they keep their promise to light up the night sky.

The “is” of love is counter-cultural in our world today. It seems to come and go like a wisp of smoke. It seems to be difficult to attain, impossible to hold on to and easy to forget about once it flies out the car window. It only seems this way because we often define love as a feeling.

Feelings do waltz into the ballrooms of our hearts and then tango their way right out the back door. Feelings react to the foci of our mind, will and emotions but they are not, in and of themselves, capable of producing love. Feelings are like the lights on the dashboard of your car: they are indicators of how the machine is running. Feelings are not the machine itself.

If love “is” then it is a constant, present choice. For example, if I was patient with my husband yesterday but not patient with him today, yesterday’s patience is merely today’s memory. Yesterday’s patience cannot morph itself into this moment’s patience. I must choose patience anew, today. Right now. It would be nonsensical for me to say to my husband:

“Must I pursue actions of love everyday? I was selfless last month. Wasn’t that enough for you? Today, I am going to do whatever I feel like doing regardless of how it affects you.”

Or . . .

“But I was kind for the first three years of marriage. Just let your heart be content with that. If I MUST be kind to you again I will do it sometime next year.”

Love is a series of choices. It is active. God’s genius is fully displayed in his design for marriage in the fact that it is meant to be a lifetime commitment. The commitment I made to John is permanent. Even though we both display our fallibility by making mistakes and behave selfishly from time to time, the commitment stands. Even when we don’t sense the wisps of romantic feelings wafting through our home, love still “is” because the commitment we made to our marriage still “is.”

I suppose some feel it is a stifling truth but I find great freedom in the boundaries that marriage provides. The boundaries means both my husband and I are free within our marriage to be the strong individuals we are, to be brilliant in our shows of love at times and to display lackluster moments of spousal support at other times. Whether we laugh with feelings of love or pout with a lack of emotional vigor we both know that love still “is.” When our feelings are not creating sparks, the commitment is still alive with electricity even though the switch is turned off.

God’s definition of love extends to every loving relationship we enjoy (and sometimes do not enjoy). The love we have for our family, our friends, our co-workers—ones that are easy to love and the sand paper people in our lives—all begin with present choices. No matter how deeply the roots of any individual relationship extend, the way you choose to treat others today still matters.

For example, I love my mom. I am sure I could go two weeks without calling my mom and she would still know I love her. In fact, we have kind of a funny routine we often play out at the end of our conversations:

Mom: Okay, honey, I love you. Tell John I love him, too.

Jill: I love you, too. Tell Victor [my step-dad] I love him, too.

Mom: Okay, everyone still loves everyone.

Jill: Everyone is in love.

My mom knows I love her so I could probably go for several weeks without talking to her on the phone but I don’t want to because I love her. I delight in these conversations with my mom because our relationship is built on love. Every now and then we have an argument or become short with one another—it is rare but it does happen—but because love “is” between us we are quick to apologize or even simply let the moment go. Sometimes we don’t have to apologize at all because after one of us has been impatient or angry we return quickly to patience and understanding.

It is easy to see how God’s definition of love applies and works well in healthy relationships, but what about relationships that are either unhealthy or broken?

Love cannot be selfish. I do not mean to say, “It should not be selfish,” I mean that the character of love itself leaves no possibility for selfishness. We as humans can make selfish decisions when we are not acting in love, but then the fault is ours, the fault does not belong to love itself.

When we focus inwardly we cannot make the outward, forward-moving choices that are outlined in God’s definition. For example, I cannot give you a gift and also keep the gift at the same time. So, relationships that are damaged are often suffering from black clouds of selfishness and the rain of neglect. Even so . . . anyone who has ever flown in an airplane knows that above the storm, the sky is still blue.

If you are currently suffering from a broken heart, splintered expectations or the pangs of loneliness know this: love “is.” If you have given your love to someone in the past, or if you long to give it now to someone who will not receive, know that your love has not been lost, it has not dwindled, it will not burn out. True love—the love that God himself breathes into and through you—is a constant burning flame and it is yours to hold. Like a torch, you have been imbued by the Spirit of God to light your path and others’ paths with love.

There is always someone within your sphere of influence who needs your love: your daily choices to lift the light of your patience, kindness, encouragement, grace, forgiveness and presence. As you accept love into your life and give love to others, you will see its restorative, redemptive and rejuvenating power.

This sonnet is meant to capture the timeless, indestructible nature of love. Feel free to share it with someone you love, today!

Beating Time, by Jill Szoo Wilson

A timepiece closed cannot hold still the time

As seconds beat invisibly around.

Above, below, inside the ticking climbs

Like drummers knocking measured, muted sound.

Within the scope of Winter-turning-Spring,

Like mist that billows down before the dawn,

There tiptoes in a gust to which hope clings

And wind-blown hours melt with waking sun.

Notes banging ‘gainst enclose’d copper sings

To beckon signatures which swelling call

Inside a music box’s gentle rings

Where Winter’s cold tocks further from the Fall.

No matter what the beats of time may play

Here speaks my heart with words I do not say.

Jill Szoo Wilson

Will Forgiveness Make Me Appear Weak?

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The idea of “fairness” is embedded within our natural DNA. If you observe little children on a playground you will see justice and injustice at work. If little boy A cuts in line at the swing set, little girl B will react in dismay, maybe even anger.   Or, if little boy C steals little girl D’s pudding out of her lunch box, you will witness instant tears and, perhaps, instant violence in little girl D. We are wired to understand fairness.

Consider with me, please, how the idea of fairness can sometimes dictate our decision to forgive or not to forgive.

Unforgiveness is often used as a weapon. I would go so far as to say forgiveness feels unnatural. The more natural response to being offended or otherwise hurt would be to defend one’s self from the offender by setting up walls of protection, either literal or mental and emotional. Unforgiveness can be compared to these walls of protection. When we choose not to forgive someone who has hurt us, we are assuming the role of warden standing in front of the jail in which we have thrown our own hearts. We put our hearts behind bars where they will be safe and out of harm’s way.

What happens to a heart that continues pumping within the cement and steel of confinement?

It hardens. It becomes judgmental. It becomes confused and lonely.  C.S. Lewis says, in his book The Four Loves,

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Unforgiveness looks like strength on the outside. It can look like confident self-reliance and determination. It can look like focused dependence, good boundaries and freedom to love anything or anyone other than he who dealt the offense in the first place. It can look this way for a season.

Unforgiveness often causes the jailed heart to run from inmate to inmate looking for someone who can help ease the discomfort of being in jail. The imprisoned heart embraces others, often without discerning the person she is embracing. She runs from face to face, warm body to warm body and when she cannot find solace in other people, she often turns to tasks of jobs or dreams. The jailed heart is restless, anxious and, eventually, she becomes tired.

Why would someone choose to keep her heart in jail? Fear.

It is easier to run away than to face difficult people or situations. Often, those who run the fastest in the opposite direction of their freedom are those who purpose to create an image of strength as a means of protecting themselves from further pain. Unfortunately, running away from one pain does not make the pain vanish. Instead, that running leaves the runner winded. Running from an internal pain is like trying to run away from a bad guy on a treadmill: the pain is inside and cannot be escaped through physical, relational, emotional or mental speed.

The only way to escape the pain caused by another person—whether the offense is labeled betrayal, lies, gossip, abandonment, selfishness, or abuse—is to release your heart from the jail cell called unforgiveness into the open air of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not for the perpetrator. Forgiveness is for you. Forgiveness is not weakness—running away is weakness. Forgiveness is the strength to escape your own jail cell.

What if the perpetrator, family and/or friends perceive your forgiveness as weakness? Does that matter to you? If so, I would ask you to consider this thought, “Am I willing to stay in bondage in order to keep the good opinion of someone I love?” If someone truly loves you, she will demonstrate her love by wanting what is best for you.

You will know when someone truly loves you when she not only says she wants your highest good but also actively participates in your quest for your highest good. Conversely, anyone who encourages you to conform to their will through manipulation, codependence and/or their own fear of losing a prominent position of emotional authority in your life, may be purposing to keep you in jail:

Misery loves company.

Hurting people hurt people.

Fearful people try to control others.

If you have been refusing to forgive someone because you are afraid you will be opening yourself to vulnerability, (i.e. Because you are afraid of being hurt again) I ask you to contemplate three things:

  1. Do you realize you can forgive without reconciling, or re-establishing a relationship with the person who hurt you?
  2. Do you hold on to unforgiveness because you feel it gives you control in the relationship?
  3. Are you scared to forgive because someone else in your life is manipulating you with his/her own bitterness or spite?

Fairness on the playground demands justice:

  • If you take my kickball, I will take yours.
  • If you cheat at tetherball, I can cheat too.
  • If you hit me, I can hit you back.

We no longer live on the playground. As adults we can live by a different set of rules:

  • If you hurt me, I can choose freedom.
  • If you try to smother my heart, I can choose to walk out from under your shadow.
  • If you are the person I feel I cannot forgive, you are the person I am going to forgive today because my freedom is more important than my desire to get even.

It takes courage to face the fact that you have the choice to forgive.  Be strong.  Be courageous.  Be free.

Through The Noise: Your Voice Matters.

Listening

We are soothed by the voices of those we love.

Have you ever been on stage—acting, dancing or singing—and heard the laughter, or the even throat-clearing, of one of your family members? Or, have you ever been standing on a ball field playing your position when you suddenly heard the familiar cheers of your mom or dad?

Perhaps, you have been walking down the street when you heard your name being called. Even before you turned around to see the source of the voice you knew exactly whom that voice belonged to.

Hearing voices we know in the midst of a crowd is comforting. Why are familiar voices so comforting?

The world is filled with a lot of noise: both internal and external.

Internal noise is comprised of your physical needs and thoughts. For example, three days ago one of my bottom molars was extracted. Before the offending fracture was discovered by the Endodontist, I endured three days of the most torturous pain I have even experienced. The pain was at times the only thing I could focus on. I did not have pain. I was inside pain. The internal noise of the pain screamed above all other thoughts, effectively drowning out all other stimulus. I needed full focus to endure the misery.

Internal noise can also be characterized by distracting thoughts.   For example, if I am trying to write a blog and I am distracted by thoughts of an argument I had with my husband this morning, the internal noise of my emotional reaction to our argument pulls my focus away from writing and onto our relationship.

External noise can be heard in your physical environment: lawn mowers, music that is being played too loudly or the college students who live behind your house raucously using their swimming pool as a frat house. External noise can also be visual. When I teach Public Speaking I remind my students to dress in a way that is mostly neutral to the eyes of the audience: nothing bearing words or graphics and certainly nothing showing too much leg or bare midriff. This is not in any way meant to hinder the students’ self-expression but the boundaries are meant to help focus the audience on the words of the speaker, not his/her body or attire.

As we walk through life, this noise from within and without marches in a long, constant parade weaving in and out of our ears, and circling back through our minds and emotions.

There are ways in which we can quiet both internal and external noise.

When my mind, will and emotions are feeling particularly boisterous inside myself I often choose to light a candle, practice deep breathing, and focus on Jesus: who He is and what He has done in my life and for the world at large. When I feel my thoughts veering from Him I have a word I say that brings me back to focusing on Jesus. The word I usually use is “hope” but you can use any word, really. The point of the candle is to focus on the light: not as a metaphor but as a practical source of redirecting my thought back to one place. The point of the breathing is physiological in that proper breathing opens the blood vessels and helps release physical tension. The point of meditating on Jesus is to acknowledge that He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent and, to use an embarrassingly inadequate phrase, “God is bigger than me or my noise.”

When my environment is flustering my focus, I choose to shut out as much of the external roar as I can. If I am at home I will close the curtains, turn off my cell phone, play instrumental music on my desktop computer and listen to it through my ear buds. If I am in public, I will usually use my instrumental music and ear buds as a sound filter. Certainly, we have all encountered such noise and we all have our own versions of makeshift soundproof rooms on-the-go.

Noise is inevitable. Unless you choose to remove yourself from society altogether, à la Henry David Thoreau, you will be accosted by a streaming clamor of commotion: ideas, debates, opinions, temptations, noisy neighbors, tooth aches, worry, doubt, fear, arguments, anger, offenses, mistakes . . . etc.

In the midst of the noise, listen for the voices of those who love you. Those who will build you up, not tear you down. Listen for your true fans: the ones who cheer you on not because of what you do but because they appreciate who you are. Attune your ears to those who will tell you the truth with gentleness and respect, not vomit empty flattery into your ears, effectively filling your mind with bacteria and disease. Turn your ear toward those who do not add to the noise but, instead, offer a safe place to peacefully be yourself, contemplate and experience the joy of unconditional support.

Just as you love to hear familiar voices in the crowd, others are emboldened by your voice too. Lift your voice in other people’s theatres, arenas and on their neighborhood streets. Be a voice that comforts, encourages and cheers others on. It is easy to be a cheerleader. Sometimes we forget that our voices matter so we keep them silent. But forget that nonsense! Make some noise! Let your friends, loved ones—your tribe—know you are there.

The following sonnet is entitled Through The Noise because to me it represents a picture of following God’s voice even in the midst of a thousand competing noises: both internal and external.

 

Through The Noise.

There is a wood through which a chorus swells,

The mouths therein are linked upon the trees

To leaves whose waving employ bids farewell

On winded swells of bellowing reprise.

The song I hear is as the wood itself

Foreboding in its measures and in keys

A minor tilt as crooked as a shelf

Upon which heartbeats tumble and then freeze.

To step and step, one foot and then the next,

Thus trav’ling to a rhythm played by choice-

The deepest goal when through the trees perplexed-

I journey through the noise to hear one voice.

Among the tunes sung in and through, around

My footsteps halt to hear your name resound.

Jill Szoo Wilson

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