Saturday, July 20, 2013

Free Write

Playpen member Casey's terrific novel!
I belong to a writer’s group at home. These accomplished women have been meeting for many years (I am a fairly recent addition), supporting one another in their writing careers. “Playpen” includes a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a screen writer, several novelists and teachers, even a pair of writers who have published a book together. We meet monthly, and everyone brings news to share, as well as a helpful tip or two (website, new outlet for submissions, etc.) I find the group wonderfully affirming and inspiring.

In the summer at the beach, I often hit a pretty substantial writer’s block. Which makes no sense to me: here I am in a beautiful setting, with spare time I never have in Oreland, and I sit on the porch facing the dreaded blank page. This year, I decided to meet the problem head-on. I attended a “free write” hosted by the Rehoboth Beach Writer’s Guild. I had no idea what to expect, but hoped it would jump-start some creativity.

The event, attended by six people with their laptops, was a series of writing prompts given by the group’s leader. These prompts ranged from lines taken from poems, to New Yorker cartoons, to random words on slips of paper. Everyone had five minutes to write about each topic, then to read their work aloud. Wow, was that eye-opening! I discovered that, while I think of myself as a “fast” writer, I’m nowhere near speedy enough to come up with compelling material on the spot. My fellow attendees, all veterans of the free write, churned out paragraph after paragraph of really good stuff, some touching, some funny. I, on the other hand, wrote mostly drivel, and was embarrassed to share it at all (you could pass, and for one prompt I did—at that point I was tempted to pack up and go home, where at least I could be alone with my blank page.)

One of the writing prompts. My output was less than stellar.
 Will I go back next week? I’m not sure. It was a little discouraging, and I do a fine job of discouraging myself already. But it definitely took me out of my comfort zone, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve never taken a writing course of any kind, and have decided that my “voice” is what it is—I’ll never write a thriller (the only one I’d scare is me) or a romance (I’m such a prude that I’d blush if my characters even kissed). I write, basically, one kind of thing: spiritual essays about my life, with (hopefully) some humor. My kids often urge me to try another genre (“something edgy” says Rose, predictably), but I’m afraid to stretch very far.  I’m so poor at challenging myself in general, whether it be trying a new sport, or really putting myself out there as a writer and speaker. If it’s hard, I shy away. And I know I miss so much.

So OK. I’ll try the free write again. I can only get better, right?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mission Time

Rosebud Team (can you spot me?)
I wrote the following 10 years, and 10 mission trips, ago. This Sunday morning 35 of us will head to San Ramon, Costa Rica, and once again will have the profound experience of sharing God’s love with the “least of these.” May we be respectful of their culture, loving and giving, and, always, awed and humbled by the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in us.

Our camp took place over a thousand miles from Christ's Lutheran, in a community called Two Strike, on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Two Strike faces the same problems that plague the whole reservation: rampant alcoholism, unemployment, depression and despair. Daily, a large assortment of Lakota children of all ages waited outside the decrepit community center as our team of leaders drove up. Few parents were ever in sight. The ten year olds held tiny siblings on their backs; the five and six year olds arrived alone, having traveled  from one of a collection of tumble down houses that lined the community's single, winding road.

These children came to camp hungry. They came to camp exhausted. Many of them arrived dirty, wearing the same clothes day after day. Some also wore fresh bruises and cuts from beatings they had received the night before. Because their toys were normally sticks, and the mangy dogs they played with in the road, these children clutched their new markers and crayons with wonder. While there were planned activities throughout the day, they would have been content to sit and draw, or be carried around by the teenage counselors. These children needed massive amounts of love, and they soaked up the care and attention they received like flowers in the sun.

We couldn't call our Two Strike Camp a Bible school, indeed were asked not to mention Christ at all. Many of these families bore the scars of the Christian boarding schools, where their ancestors had been systematically abused, stripped of their language, their culture, and their dignity. The deeply beautiful and profound Lakota spirituality had, until recently, been practiced underground. Now they are beginning to reclaim this part of their heritage, and do not want another kind of religion forced on their children.

We didn't sing about God, but I have never felt His presence more strongly than in that small, dusty building. We never mentioned Jesus by name, but our teenagers fully lived their faith that week, bringing nourishing food, playing games, telling stories, and most importantly, hugging and holding the poor little ones who are so very close to His heart. None of us who were there will ever forget them: Baby Joe, Taytum, Sonny, Ashke-win, Outlaw, Skyla. They will haunt our dreams. Will they have a chance, even a chance for a decent future? I think they will, because Someone has brought them into our lives, Someone who loves them more than we do.

Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.

God bless Two Strike, San Ramon and everywhere.

San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala, July 2011