How do you tell a story?

I don’t have any answers on this one….just questions. I recently read a book called “The Girl Behind the Gate” that was a total surprise. I stumbled onto it on Kindle Unlimited and could not put it down until I was finished. In non-overly dramatic fashion, it told the story of an unmarried young woman who got pregnant in the days where her society did horrible things to her, where (as always) it was her “fault” and her “moral failings” and never mentioned she didn’t do it herself. This is personal to me, since one of my ancestors went down that road with horrible, tragic disastrous results that have left consequences subsequent generations are still impacted by. It took my breath away to see the parallel to my relative’s story but to see this woman walk out of hell with the help of a courageous therapist and find a measure of peace and stability and worth and LIFE. A worthwhile but dark read….

The other story that totally floored me and made me seriously consider the art of storytelling was called “The Old Man” – a popular TV show that came out recently (only seven episodes so far). This is fiction and drama but the breadcrumbs the story teller weaves through this forensic tale of family secrets, hidden agendas, buried details and the strengths and weaknesses of the characters with their ability to sacrifice, deceive, and delude themselves….so well done. Dark drama, somewhat violent without showing heads being lopped off (implied, not displayed violence), but SO well done.

The grip of these two stories on me got my attention. I am usually given to poetry (telling a story in a snapshot, not a novel) – giving a glimpse of a picture, a feeling, a relationship. This got me thinking – how do you tell a story? Some things don’t fit in a poem. In my life there have been many of those things. Times where grace has invaded my space, even in the midst of tragedy and loss and shame…where a person has shown up out of my past to confirm things I had no way of finding answers to on my own. There are people who have told me my story is worth telling. I just don’t know where to even start….

Suggestions? How do you approach telling a story?

Prodigal Mother

You wanted a son, someone to love better than you were loved
You wanted a son, to hold your lover to you,
thinking that cord could not be broken
(He would have to stay, since his character that wouldn’t let him just run away.)

But you never thought what it meant to love someone more than yourself…
To put their needs above yours, even when tired, depressed or bored.
You never thought about the work required to have a place to live,
Food to eat, access to medical care, pay the bills AND meet the demands of a little person.

Instead of a grown-up woman, you wanted to still be a child in a grown-up body –
having time to go play, get lots of presents, with people doing and providing for you…
You don’t understand what it cost them in so many ways – your enablers trying so hard
To give you a break, encourage you to get help, trying to model what adulthood is like.

You thought we all worked too hard, too long, too often, too much.
You didn’t want that. You wanted the exciting bad boy. Escape. Euphoria. Fentanyl.
You are lucky you are still alive. That could change if you don’t change. You could die.
Please change. Please choose. Please stay alive. Please run from the path you have chosen.

And while your baby’s daddy grieves the loss of his mom, and loss of faith in you to adult up,
You expect him to pay the bills for you and your bad boy, work two jobs,
And provide you all with housing and cash… are you nuts?

Like another prodigal long ago, you squandered the opportunities you’ve been given.
You used and stole from people who care about you.
You lied and manipulated like addicts do…
But one day, hopefully, you will open your eyes and realize where you’ve ended up.

What you’re doing isn’t going to work this time
If you don’t know how to fix it, humble yourself.
Get honest
Ask for help to learn to do it different.
Go to treatment. Listen to how other people got better.
Please stay alive.
If you’re alive, there’s still hope.

Teresa Norman June 20, 2022

Wind from Heaven

Lord, we are scattered, tribal and confused
We shout aloud and louder trying to be heard
It’s as if we are speaking a different language
And no one is listening -we wound each other…
It bears no good fruit. We wonder what went wrong –
Why can’t the “other guy” just know we are right….

But your Word gives us hope –
At Pentecost, you sent your spirit
Those gathered heard a loud noise, like a wind from heaven.
Tongues of fire rested on their heads
You touched them and then
They spoke language your spirit gave-
Language understood by those gathered from every nation…
The people marveled that they could understand

Our words, our actions, our Christian cultural thing –
It’s so foreign to so many…are they “lost” or are we?
People of every nation listened to the words of God
In language they could understand because the Spirit came…
God, breathe on us,
Wind from heaven
Fill our mouths with words
that will be understood by those who listen…
Pour out your spirit on every nation
Help your sons and daughters speak your word…
Breathe on us, wind from heaven.

Give us strength to walk the good road with you
Release us from our broken, twisted ways.
Give us humility to learn from and hear one another.
To see the beauty in the variety of humans you have made.
Together we meet at the foot of your cross
Together we take the bread and wine and remember who you are
Why you came…we remember you.

Teresa Norman 6/7/2022

Dear Southern Baptist Leadership…

It is with almost unspeakable grief that I read the report of how you, like SO many other church leaders, have covered up the abuse of women and children and made excuses for the abusers.

The destructive power of intimidating those who try to tell of what happened to them and how their lives are impacted appears to be beyond your comprehension.

Let me try to help you out on this…

Years ago, I wrote a collection of poems sharing what child abuse looks like from the child’s perspective. While the circumstances/details of each person’s abuse are different, these glimpses into abuse through a child’s eyes have helped some people see a little bit more. The view gets SO clouded and SO dark when it is clergy who abused you. I know, because the youth group leader in my church was a serial molester. He started with his owns sisters as a young man and graduated to the “sheep” he was supposed to “shepherd.” Here is a sample of the poems:

Child of Mind

Look, you child rapist, what did you mean
When you made that saintly sick little scene?

In your nice blue suit, oh SO “righteously”
You sang in “tribute” of your mom’s memory.

The church was full of people you knew,
But oh, you fraud! if they only knew you!!

Instead of your smiling religious face
They’d watch you roast and twist In Hot disgrace.

Perhaps your victims would cut off your….
And nail them up to a handy wall….

We’d get revenge for what you’ve done
In the “name of God” – (May His Kingdom come!).

We’d shout your secrets nice and loud –
Tell what you did and broadcast how
In the name of “love” and a “Shepherd’s concern”
You screwed your sheep, each one by turn.

And those who needed God’s love could find
A pastoral pervert to mess up their minds.

You hypocrite!! I wish you knew
Just what it was you put us through!

We paid a price for believing your lies.
Most of us still live and hope you die
Slowly!

************************************************************

For more poems “From the Child”. please see fromthechild.wordpress.com

The ABCs of Privilege

I’m participating in a book study with some friends using “Subversive Witness” by Dominique Dubois Gilliard, “Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege. He talks about how privilege is “stackable” – there can be layers. As a white American woman I have many privileges. That doesn’t make me a bad person-it makes me someone who needs to be responsible to “leverage” that privilege in ways that will help bring change to the injustices around me. I am just starting the journey of learning what this means and how, as a Christian, I am supposed to live. It’s about faith, not politics, but politics affects policies, so it can’t be avoided really. This book makes being a Christian make sense – I’ve always wondered why there is so much talk about the “afterlife” and how to “get people saved” – then what…you just wait for death so you can go to heaven? NO! There is so much more….there is a call to discipleship and doing justice and actively loving mercy and walking humbly with God and using your privilege to advocate for change….probably rambling here….work in process…opinions?

I used an acrostic to list some of my privileges below:

(need to research statistics on some of these – how many people don’t have access to clean water, medical care, infant/maternal mortality, feeling safe at.home, indoor plumbing and so many more of the privileges I possess…)

A. Access to medical care, medical insurance and a hospital if I need one

B. Birthed three babies, all three lived.  

C. Clean water piped right to my home where I turn on a faucet to get it    (didn’t always have that!)

D. Dog-able to love, feed, care for and enjoy the luxury of a dog

E. Electricity wired to my house and the ability to pay the bill

F. Freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly and the right to petition the government, the right to vote

G. Awareness that God has been good to me throughout my life, even the bad times – He has never left me or forsaken me even when I couldn’t see Him

H. Homeowner of a safe, modern, pleasant home living with my husband (not having to have a bunch of rotating roommates to afford a place to live)

I. Indoor plumbing (didn’t always have that!)

J. Job-had a job in a wonderful diverse community working with people I respected, doing something that mattered, and having a boss who was an advocate, not an obstacle

K. Three kids who all live within a 2 hour drive of where we live

L. Law enforcement do not stop or profile me due to my race

M. Married almost 44 years to someone who still loves me

N. No more cancer (7 years)- was able to obtain diagnosis and treatment for aggressive cancer, have insurance through my job to help pay for it, a clinical trial that kicked it’s butt and amazing people (husband, kids, friends, church community) that helped me get through it

O. Organic food (if I want it) to purchase in my community or grown on my own land and the money to buy it

P. Indoor plumbing (didn’t always have it!)

Q. Quality furnace that works and that I can afford to pay the bill to run it

R. Refrigerator in my house, retired

S. Safe in my home and community

T. Travel-two working vehicles and legal license and insurance for them, can travel by other means as well if there is $

U. Natural born United States citizen

V. Vaccinated and registered to vote

W. World Wide Web, a computer, internet access at home and on my phone

X. Many Examples of living faith observed from friends/pastors/people in my life and communities over the years

Y. Yearly physical – a doctor to go see in my community and insurance to help pay for it

Z. Zoning that let me buy a house in the community I wanted

Hope Will Rise Again

God of the paradox
Lion and lamb
You came as a servant
But hold the world in your hand

Through your death you bring life
At such terrible cost
The Shepherd who searches
For all who are lost

They tried to take your life
But you willingly laid it down
To make a new beginning
For these humans that you love

You carried our sorrows
You felt every one
Paid the price, bore the pain
For all that’s been done

You made a way
For hope to arise
In those who’d been buried
By the enemy’s lies

Messiah, Redeemer
Creator and Friend
You hung in our place
Now we live again.

Thank you.

Teresa Norman 2022

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom

Gray fog dissipates on the horizon
Torrential rain beats on the roof-
Drips with splashy drops into the gray canal
Seagulls squack, more gray and white color
In a shaded collection of potential gloom.

Slowly gliding by, a seal fishes for breakfast
As I have coffee and watch the gloom rise….
December…a strange time of year.

Hustle and bustle and jingle bells
And dashing through the snow
Searching for things and bargains
And happiness in places it can’t be found
Seems so unrelated to my world today —
(a simple world of slopping through the rain
as I try to get my dog to do her thing so we can go back inside)

I give thanks for being removed from the bustle
Even for a moment
As my puppy snores blissfully back on the bed
And we get ready to meet with people we love
And celebrate how far so many have come
To be here today in so many ways….

Shalom….

A Lament for the Displaced

See the mother as she’s running, tiny baby in her arms,

Fleeing from the soldiers and their tanks and guns and bombs… 

She’s exhausted, cold and desperate, her children hungry, full of fear –

How can she know You love her-that You walk beside here there?

Her enemies surround them. Her city’s being burned,

The bombs fell on the church as well… So many have been killed.

Their food and homes are taken because the government wills

To destroy them as a people and make them disappear.

God of justice, are you hiding? Can you hear these people cry?

Where is Your wrath and anger as the bombs fall from the sky?

Are You sleeping or on a journey? (This mother waits to hear.)

Help us welcome You and her family if injustice brings them here.

In her, I see You hungry, 

Clothe her children, we’re clothing you.

Her husband is a warrior 

Fighting evil to bring rescue

Protestors go to prison

Please God, hear their cry

Let them know they’re not alone

Let Your people cry with them…

Lord, forgive us for our silence as dictators scheme and bomb

Forgive us for our silence as the weak are crushed by the strong.

Let us cry out against this evil, loud enough so that you hear, 

Help us quit arguing with each other

About what doesn’t matter, making ourselves important

As you stand and wait….

As hungry, displaced, frightened people

Seek help….we argue about laws and who is worthy

You are the truth – banish our lies

You are the light-drive out our darkness

You are the way. Help us! We are lost!

We ask for your mercy, which we don’t deserve.

Help us stand with those who need to know You are near.

*********************************************

Lament for the Lonely

She sits hidden in the darkness
Of her well-appointed home
The Lies she has believed
Make her heart feel like a tomb
She says she’s not a “victim”
That her mind is “doing fine”
But hates all those around her –
Says they’re hateful and unkind.

God, can’t you feel the anguish
As her children hear her rage,
As they try to bear the burden
Of making their mom “OK”?
Oh God, where is your comfort?
Why do you seem so far away?
Are you on vacation?
Is there nothing You can say?

You are the loving Savior,
Redeemer, Sustainer, Friend
Who died to free the captives;
Be the light that brings life again
Please free this lonely captive
From the Liar’s choking vines
She is drowning in the darkness –
Let her breathe in Your Light again.

March 15,2022

************************************

(Haven’t been writing for a while….I know the world right now is so FULL of incomprehensible trauma, and war and war crimes and racism and power-grabbing, life crushing, country destroying evil and sadness, but last week the sadness and pain of one young woman I carry about was where my heart was most focused.) Nobody deserves the crap going on in Ukraine.

Bread From Heaven

Like the Hebrews in the desert,
I look at the bread You provide
And ask “What is it?”
So often (like the disciples of old)
I do not recognize You…
In spite of your provision
Your presence
Your goodness
I think I am alone
Abandoned.
I remain blinded by my unbelief,
My hardened heart, afraid.

Help me see who You are-
The living bread
That came down from heaven
Help me see You-
Your body broken for me.
Help me see You
In Your body,
Many members,
Though broken and scattered
Bound together as one loaf in You.

You have fed me in my wilderness
Open my eyes
to see those who are also hungry
Abandoned, alone, afraid
Bread of heaven-
You’ve given me loaves and fishes
They are not much in this world of need
It’s all I have, Lord.
But I offer it to You.

Assailed By Words

(I wrote this one during college but stumbled across it this morning cleaning files…this was the days before computers were everywhere, there was 24/7 news and STILL it seemed we were being accosted by words at every turn…)

The world is full of many words, their voices crying to be heard

Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they moan –

It makes you want to be left alone!

It’s hard to think and understand

:neath the constant input that’s at hand.

You wonder why it must all be aid –

Does it really matter or just clutter your head?

There’s words to read, to sing or prayer.

There’s words that will not go away.

You type them, CRUSH them, SHOUT them or mail them-

You try to deny that you feel assailed by them…

It takes so much energy to let them in –

To sort then, respond to them or comprehend.

Why won’t the words just go away

or at least slow down-is there THAT much to say?

Teresa Norman 1977

The Wet Butterfly

The wings unfurled slowly

As the chrysalis fell away

(or she struggled her way out)

Cautious fluttering….

As a whisper of wind

Lifting her to a new place…

What I really am is a wet butterfly

Still unfolding her recently found wings

And learning to fly…

I have only begun!

Act One

As the scene unfolds…..

We’re like so many actors in a play, roles to struggle through each day…

Wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, child of God –

(Oops….train wreck again….)

Tentatively tiptoeing into each new scene as the curtain opens wondering what it will bring…

A Roman candle with sparks that fly or a purring kitten on your lap to lie…

Hurricane winds or a beach with palms, raging waves or soft breezes that calm….

We try to live without doing harm but when focus drifts it can raise alarms

Then God redirects, and we reconnect with the script He’s written to worship Him with the lives we’ve been given.

Jan 2019

Who Is He?

Who is He who calms the wind and sea?

Yet gently calms raging storms in me?

Who is He who opens eyes once blind?

Yet made birds and animals of every kind?

Who is He who walks on the water?

Yet calls us friends, sons and daughters?

Who is He who wept for His friend?

Then with a word, gave Him life again.

Though He existed before time began

He saw me, loved me as my life began

Who is this one who redeemed my life?

My Savior, my Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

May 2021

Undivided (an Easter poem)

Seer of all things, even the small-

You knew my heart was divided.

My sins were forgiven by your mercy and grace

(But I still tried to hide my disgrace).

I wondered why, (with my heart made of stone)

So often I felt isolated, dead and alone…

But landmines buried in a small child’s soul

Can lay hidden for years and shape how her life goes…

Still, your grace comes in so many ways….

With a step of faith, a journey began,

To examine with Scripture what was really God’s plan.

Instead of a weapon to further my shame,

Your Word brought new life-a new heart, a new name.

I always knew you had carried my sins

But you let me see that my sorrows and shame

Were also banished when you rose from that grave.

They weren’t mine to carry – you paid the price.

Today my heart is undivided. 

By new life in you, this grateful child is so excited!

April 4, 2021