Jennifer Camp

Change: California Interstate 5

There were trees uprooted next to the freeway. Mounds of dirt clod clumps clinging to thick roots sticking up, awkward, misplaced.

I wanted to get a better look at them, but I was driving on California Interstate 5 to Los Angeles. Husband and kids and bags and I journeying to friends who said, please come. It was overcast, gray sky low, arms stretching out in embrace.

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If I was in the passenger seat, I’d have taken a photo. Or, I would have grabbed words and tried to work out what it was that was making my heart feel so tight in my chest when I looked out. Gnarled empty limbs, cement brown, so undignified, trunks sprawled, broken and exposed, on their sides.

I am familiar with almond trees–as a farmer’s daughter who watched her dad bend low, dirt crusted in lines of tanned skin, watching and listening to the voice of trees. I know the sharp edges of older bark as it breaks off in clumps, and the smooth, knotted roughness of young bark layered on new green. I know the smell of wet earth and the miracle of paper-thin nonpareil shells the dogs crack open and eat from the ground.

These trees were planted once. They were seeds once. They were shoots laid in dirt brown and hard, softened by drinks of water, aerated by steel spikes pulled by tractors, and visited by furry gray-brown squirrels and jackrabbits that scamper and scurry to limb upon limb or underground.

Hands planted each shoot into the ground. And the shoots grew and limbs stretched, quiet and strong, sprouting green leaves and white blossoms, and then nuts with green velvet shells before the hulls hardened and opened wide. Downy against thumb or cheek as you rub them close.

The day the bulldozers ripped roots straight out, one by one, row after row–violent, sure–was not a decision made quickly. It was not a decision that was easy. It was not a decision that was fun.

But it was necessary, whether due to lack of water, or money. Or maybe the orchard changed hands.

I hope new trees are planted soon. I hope these old trees, their roots so wrongly bent in weird angles outside the land where they belong, are replaced with new, young shoots. I pray their lineage continues, the life of the seeds giving birth to trees, with limbs pruned and the trees growing tall, before being pulled out of the ground.

Death didn’t look beautiful from this angle as I sped by, one of thousands of cars on a January Saturday afternoon. It didn’t look poetic or kind. It didn’t look hope-filled or cause for any celebration.

My hands clutched the steering wheel and I memorized the scene, the uprooted orchards, the story of men and of women and of dreams and of life coming so miraculously from hard ground.

I remembered my mom’s words to me on the phone the day before. The almonds will be in bloom soon. Just a few more weeks and the blossoms will be on the branches. The trees my father planted.

And yet I saw only uprooted trees, disaster, disorder, disappointment. And I knew the trees my father planted were scheduled to be pulled up soon, too.

The word for almond in Hebrew, is shakeid, the root of the word meaning to watch or to awake. Jeremiah, when he is asked by God what he sees, looks and says “I see an almond branch.” And I think about Jeremiah looking for what God wanted him to see, and how Jeremiah did see, and how what Jeremiah saw was something of so much beauty.

Father, show us what to watch for. Ask us what we see.

How will we answer? What is before us? What is in front of us? How do we see it? What is God asking us to see?

Jeremiah saw an almond branch, a branch of beauty, a branch also decorating the Lamp stand of the Tabernacle, in Exodus.

It was less than a minute and I had driven past the orchard. I was aware, as I looked, that it was a memory I wanted to keep. I knew that I would want to record it.

Aren’t we stirred, both, by beauty and beauty absent?

And in that moment I felt tears fall; I realized I was struggling to see beauty and hope when before me was disorder and chaos and death.

Let us watch with clear eyes, with open hearts. Let us remember there is always newness, always beauty, with God, even when things feel completely bleak.

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it (Jeremiah 1: 11-12).

Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, whatever situation we now face, I pray, sister, we ask for help in being watchful, in being observant, in desiring to see with clear, open eyes, what lies before us, yes–the miracle in the death, the life awaiting awakening, the word of God He is asking us to see, live out, believe.


For Loop Poetry Project, write a poem on an experience with change. Consider your present circumstances: what is different than what it was before? How can you bring to life your observations of these changes? Will you focus on the facts–the details of change that comes with time? Or will it be more of a rumination of the heart? 

Some ideas to consider: how has your body changed, and how do you feel about that? What about your relationships? The environment? Your home? Your attitudes and/or opinions? Your interests and affinities? Your desires and questions about the world?

Share your poem below or on social media using the hashtag #looppoetryproject so we can find you. You can also share your poem in the private Facebook group, Loop Poetry Project, a supportive community of women pursuing heart wholeness through writing poetry. (Pursuing what is true, not perfection.)

love,

jennifer


To Be Taught

How is it that raindrops on windshields
and empty bleachers signal sadness,
memories of people in their youth
or old age congregating as if they
are known and understood,
inhabiting their moments fully
grounded in their feelings,
experiencing the living of smiling
and talking, crying and dancing,
without circumspection or analysis
or wistfulness or regret.
How can living be so easy
(breathing taken for granted)
an attitude undignified and wildly beautiful
in its freedom to be what it is
and not second-guess its meaning
or one’s role in it, a bold wild dance
of living loved and knowing it
so that each step is perfectly sure
and unparalleled in grace,
the way our eyes meet
and you teach me all these things
without saying a word.

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com


the author of fear: who is it going to be?

We got tested for the Corona-19 virus on Friday. Three of the five of us–with the other two going in soon. And now we await results. 

Photo by Abby Camp

We were exposed to it by a friend on my birthday, and this Wednesday will be the 14th day of our quarantine. This dear friend, though, a single dad of four children, has been in the hospital for nine days. He is stable now. But we continue to lift up our hands and pray.

Sometimes the most difficult first step in surrendering fear to God is recognizing we are afraid. Satan doesn’t want us to recognize our fear. He doesn’t want us to name what it is that makes us anxious, desperate, stressed. Here is our habit: We let fear dictate our actions, our decisions, our rhythm of life.

What does a life of fear look like? Well, it can look a lot like believing lies:

We can fear we will not be loved unless we perform and earn validation from people outside our family. So we work hard and stay up late and choose opportunities to prove ourselves while neglecting what God puts in front of us to do and ignoring whom God puts in front of us to love.

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We can fear we will fail at the task God has given us to do. So we have a history of spending time doing other things–maybe even good things–that are in our comfort zones. Things to make us feel good about ourselves, where we can rely upon our own strengths, have control and predict the outcome.

We can fear vulnerability. So we hide and shade the truth. We fear we will be loved less–or outright rejected–or filled with shame if we reveal the deepest secrets of our hearts. 

What are your fears? What does your life look like because of these fears? What are the outcomes?

No matter what we fear, this is what we need to remember:

Jesus already granted us salvation. Jesus already came for us, restored us to Himself, took all sin, all fear, and invited us into His fullness. We are reconciled to Him. All God’s wrath and judgment already came and was laid on Christ.

“For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.”


romans 6:10

Jesus’ death only needed to happen once. His sacrifice, once, was enough.

When we fear, when we feel overwhelmed and distressed, let’s remember the coming of our Lord, the sacrifice and rising of Christ. While nothing can separate us from the love of God, fear can get in the way of our living in the fullness of God’s love–the fullness He bought for us with His death, the fullness we are practicing living in, each day.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

John 4:18

As sisters of Christ, daughters of God, we have been given everything we need to live fully. We lack nothing. Nothing.

Our fear reveals how much we are a work in progress. While perfectly designed, we are still being perfected. Our trials, our suffering in this life are opportunities for us to move in the opposite spirit of fear, move in the opposite spirit of anxiety and desperation. We are desperate for Christ, yes–but we are even more desperate to choose Christ.

With each step we take this day, we choose Christ or we choose fear. When we choose Christ, we choose perfect love, which “casts out fear.”

I know what it is like to live from a place of fear. I know what that burden feels like–the heaviness, the walls pressing in. I know what it looks like to work hard to either ignore the fear, or to fix the problem you think is causing it in the first place.

But here is what is causing it. We are filled with fear, no matter the circumstance, because we are not trusting our whole self to God. His perfect love casts out all fear. He is enough. He is big enough. He is good.

Father, you have already come. You have already bestowed to us your fullness, and we ache to receive it. We ache to realize it even more. We want all that You have for us, and we surrender to You our fear, our doubts, our striving. We claim your perfect love. We claim it as enough. Continue to perfect us. Let us see You more clearly. Let us live in the fullness of You, in the fullness of your perfect love. Let us make all choices, this day, from that place, from the heart of knowing who and whose we are.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

For the Loop Poetry Project this week, write a poem about fear. Perhaps you’d want to personify Fear so that it feels like someone with whom you’d have a conversation or see walking down the street of your neighborhood or experience living in your house. How would it walk? What would it say? What room would it inhabit? How would you feel about it being there? Comfortable? Angry? Resigned?

Or maybe write a poem that tells a story about a personal experience with fear–the story of your life or an isolated moment. In this case you might consider using language that brings the fear to life, helping us, as readers, feel it with you, through details of sight, touch, sound, and smell.

Most importantly, listen to your heart. When you consider the concept of fear, what do you most want to say? Then play around with how you will communicate your heart’s message. Give it voice. Don’t hold back. Be the author of the fear, not the other way around.

Then consider sharing your poem here, in the comments, or on social media, using the hashtag #looppoetryproject so we can find you. I would also love to see you over at this community’s private Facebook group. If you haven’t joined yet, you need to know it is a lovely and encouraging place, full of kind and brave women who weekly share their hearts upon the page.

I look forward to hearing from you!

love,

jennifer


Mania

In dreams I am running and
barely moving,
like there is no pay off in effort
and yet

I only push harder
when it seems I am going
nowhere
rather than—

well, it never occurs to me
to stop.

How can I tell her:
slowing might be okay,
I mean, you are
moving slowly anyway.

She cannot imagine
not choosing suffering
if there is a chance
she might escape

the feeling that
she will fail.

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com


measuring a moment: how your relationship with Time affects your life

I rose early on my birthday last week, stepping outside into air cool and quiet. All was still. No breeze rustling the bamboo fronds. No birds bouncing from branches. No squirrels catapulting from the highest tree limbs to the wooden fence and back up to the studio roof. 

I live my days sensitive to time–perplexed by the way it can stretch out, one long moment after another, and how, also, it can dart and weave and feel like pinpricks of reality, barely realized, scarcely seen, unnoticed before it disappears. 

I have lived the habit of missing time.

But not today.

The day of my birthday is usually when I am most sensitive to time–more than in December, that time of reflection and planning for the new year. Or even on my children’s birthdays, although their aging always feels like a mind-bender to me. How did you change from cuddly baby to squirmy toddler to this independent teenager who is about to leave home? Rather than being grateful for the years of living, the miracle of these years, I have often spent my birthday hyper-aware of all the time that has passed, as if it had escaped me somehow and I failed at slowing it and corraling it back. 

But on my birthday last week, at the moment I stepped out the door into the crisp morning air, I realized that my perception of time was different. Rather than feeling anxious that another year of my life had passed, I felt waves of gratitude for the miracle of my life at all.

How blessed am I to have lived this long? How blessed am I to live in a world of water and air, flowers and mountains, art and song? How blessed am I to experience adventure and imagination, where anything is possible, where people are wildly complicated and captivatingly imperfect and shine with stunning beauty like the sun?

What a miracle to awake to light each day and the darkness each night. What a miracle to get to think and dream, accept challenges and work problems. What a miracle to get to mess up and try again and forgive and love even when it hurts and feels impossible. What a miracle to experience the aging of a body and a beating of a heart both held in the gaze of God?

I am loved. You are loved. Dearly, dearly loved.

There is nothing to fear this day in the ticking of a clock, the weakening of a body. Wistfulness and regret is not for us. Not this day. 

Look up. Look up. Look at how long you have lived! All of life is set before you. Never-ending. Beautiful and full of possibilities. Even in the hardship. Even in the challenge. Even in the unknowing. There is good here. Right now. And more good is yet to come.


For the Loop Poetry Project this week, write a poem about your relationship with time–what you think about it, how you approach it. Perhaps you would want to consider having a conversation with Time, as if it were a person. Or perhaps you’d like to tell a story about it–or show, through figurative language, how time can be manipulated or how it manipulates you. 

How does time motivate you? Or drain you? How does time frustrate you or inspire you? What stories can time tell you? What wisdom has time given you? What trials and struggles? What glories and gifts? 

Share your poem here, in the comments below, or on social media, using the hashtag #looppoetryproject. If you haven’t yet joined the Loop Poetry Project private group on Facebook, I encourage you to check it out–a community of kind and encouraging women who believe that writing can be a tool for self-awareness–and poetry is a form of writing that lends itself to an even deeper study and healing of the heart.

with love, from this one true heart,

jennifer


 

Time Rising

I am aware it is my birthday
and look for everything
around me to speak,
the stillness of morning
when all is possible,
everything in front of me
never behind
when the sun rises slowly,
offering light kissing branches
and rooftops and bird wings
and the wind holds it breath
so that time is expectant and holy
and I am okay with its shifting—
the way forty-eight years feels
more compact than
one long song stretched
through innumerable choices to
see a moment
for what it is and yet
can never understand:
love standing in one place and
in all places at once
so I am consistently held
and I am not afraid
to be overwhelmed by
all that is possible
and perfect and true.

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com

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