I can’t think of a more powerful way to begin the 2022 Open Write than with poetry written by Stacey Joy and Kwame Alexander – two of my favorite poets to read! Stacey challenges us to write list poems to start the year. The link to her prompt is below. Beginning 2022 with a list poem reminds us that poetry can be free of rules and forms – it’s breath and thought and heart all blended in expression.
My one not so little word for 2022 is listen, so I made a starter kit of some ways I’ve discovered I can listen without using the word hear.
I was the band director and the chorus teacher for two hours today at the high school. Overall, things did not go so well.
First, I can’t read music. Second, I can’t sing.
I went from a morning of covering a high school history class and testing preschoolers’ Literacy skills to an afternoon of sheer cacophony surrounded by brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments I knew nothing about.
In the midst of this surreal assignment, I looked up and smiled and thought of my one little word I’d chosen for 2022: listen. And as I did, it occurred to me that others might want to listen, too.
I texted a few 15-second audio clips to my closest people with no accompanying explanation.
“Wow, what was that?” my husband replied.
“It’s my band class. I’m directing,” I informed him.
“Oh my goodness, that’s hilarious,” he texted back.
“What in the world?” from my daughter.
“It’s my band class. I’m directing,” I told her.
She was amused. “Hahaha! Directing? Or do you mean telling the band to play something reminiscent of a Disney movie set in the Great Depression that was decades before their time?”
Another family member was so concerned that he tried calling, but I couldn’t answer in class.
“I’m busy directing the band today. I’ll have to call you when I’m headed back to the office,” I told him.
“Oh dear,” another replied. “I’m going to need video evidence.”
And so I got it.
So that for the rest of 2022 when I need to think of the most unusual way I listened on the 13th day of the year, I can revisit this experience and be ever mindful that the words we choose for the year can truly take us to some places we never dreamed we’d be.
My childhood church on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where my father has served as pastor twice throughout his career, is the place where I began my life as a Christian and was baptized as a child. Thanks to modern technology, I can virtually attend my childhood church, even though I live five hours away. Kyle Keese, the current interim pastor, in his sermon on January 9 , 2022 (I’ve linked it at the bottom of this post), shared his story of a conversation with two friends who were attending a reunion church service. One of the friends revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the other friend encouraged him to blog the journey. To share the story as a gift and blessing– to learn something about who he was, but more importantly, to learn more about who God was and how his faith sustained him in the midst of the pain.
I’d been late tuning in to the service, but as I began listening, How Firm a Foundation was the hymn being sung by the congregation. These words sung at my mother’s funeral were a nudge to lift my listening ears and open my mind and heart to hear the message that I needed to hear: share the story of a firm foundation and the difference it makes.
For a couple of years now, my prayer has been to find opportunities to share my family’s journey through a daughter’s addiction. I hadn’t anticipated another daughter on the road to recovery as I prayed, but as a mother who prays for my children’s health and safety daily, I could only rejoice as she came clean with her need for help – with her readiness to do the work she knows it will take. I thought of the conversation between these men, and the way our own family experience could be a gift to bless others with encouragement along the way.
My father, just last week, expressed his own desire to share our story so that others who are traveling through the back-alley-darkness of a family member’s addiction will realize that they are not alone – that there is hope – that it takes tough love and ceaseless prayer and unflappable faith when these shadows fall across our paths.
He shared that he’d once set his planned sermon aside and, led by the Holy Spirit in a different direction that day, spoken candidly to the congregation about our pain and our faith – and our blessings – in the midst of the road that we traveled. He spoke of the people who came alongside us, angelic friends, with resources and guidance to shed light on us even as we didn’t yet know all that we didn’t know. And as people left the service that day, he realized through the many similar stories shared with him that we have a responsibility to share because others have a need to hear how God uses our trials to shine His glory and pours out blessings along the way.
“I’ve never been one to set the sermon aside and tarry off course. But I felt led, so I did, and I understood as I stood at the door when people were leaving that the story needed to be shared – because so many people are struggling and need to hear that they are not alone – that there is hope,” he reflected.
My prayer remains to keep a steadfast faith, to listen and obey, and to allow the lyrics of my mother’s favorite hymn – the last notes of music to ever fall on her ears – to carry forth as a light in a dark, painful world – to share the message that others need to hear:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent word! What more can He say than to you He hath said— To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not harm thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” (-Author unknown except by letter K-)