Thursday, May 31, 2012

Metaphor---What's it for?

If I could master one thing in my writing, I'd choose---Metaphor.

Why?

It comports meaning, transports the mind, inspires hope and illuminates the soul.
It changes. It invites. It whispers.

What is metaphor? Doesn't that take you right back to visions of your 7th grade English teacher lecturing at the chalkboard? (I happen to love my 7th grade English teacher--Ms. Yoder, I'll never forget)

That distant memory should bring to mind comparisons of metaphor to simile. While simile uses the phrases "like" or "as"--metaphor compares two different things that by that comparison conveys a meaning not obviously or previously noted.

Jesus used simile all the time: "the Kingdom of Heaven is like"  --- a mustard seed, a hidden treasure, etc.
Or in poetry, we see it: "My love is like a red, red rose, that has newly sprung in June."~by Robert Burns

We might even say that in novel writing simile is too cliche, such as the phrase "as quiet as a mouse". It shows us something, but overused and uninteresting we pass over it unmoved.

But metaphor compares two different things to communicate meaning. Sometimes it is quite simple, like this example:   "Tommy is the lion king of his class." Tommy is a boy, not a lion. We think of lions as strong, and the lion king as the strong leader of his pride. Now we think of Tommy in a much different light. We now know something about him without saying or telling us "Tommy is strong."

But I'm really not wishing to capture the talent of the metaphor on a one sentence scale. I'm dreaming of it on a much grander scale of story telling. Or perhaps we should call it "story-showing" because I think capturing the metaphor on that scale has something to do with the "show don't tell" skill set.

For example, "Bill's teeth were hardened blue cheese nuggets, speckled with green and black." Now, when I read that, I see it! Not only do I see his teeth, I see a haggard old miner, aged beyond his actual years, teeth rotting out, beard unkempt, hair dried and brittle from poor health, but a grin bigger than Texas as he holds up a nugget of gold--his condition a price he's willing to pay for his treasure. This is much more interesting than being told "Bill's teeth were rotten."

But enough of grammar, the master of metaphor in my life is Jesus.

We studied John 13 last week in Sunday school class. Jesus says to Thomas, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one can come to the Father but through me."

The Way. Hmmm--what does that really mean?? If He would just tell us plainly how to follow Him, we could go there. But even we can understand when Jesus tells Thomas its not that simple. He came to show, not tell.  His whole life is his Way, and the Way of the Father. Love, faith, hope, forgiveness. Like Thomas we see things so simply. Why love someone who doesn't deserve it? Why have faith in something unseen? Why hope for the impossible? Why forgive when the other doesn't deserve it? And furthermore why forgive, since I have a right to remain angry because I was right and he was wrong? We know what's wrong, we know what's right, but like Jesus' disciples we often just don't understand. We are aware of this Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil--we see the good and the bad but feel helpless to grasp for the Tree of Life--to break our sorry cycles of misunderstanding, to be shown a more excellent Way. To be drawn into greater Truth than we know, a richer Life than we live.

Eugene Peterson, author of The Jesus Way describes metaphor:

"Metaphor does that, makes me a participant in creating the meaning and entering into the action of the word. I can no longer understand the word by looking it up in the dictionary, for it is no longer just itself. It is alive and moving, inviting me to participate in the meaning. When the writers of scripture use metaphor, we get involved with God, whether we want to or not, sometimes whether we know it or not."

My simple prayer for my writing is that God will help me show that He is the Way.

I want to show not tell. People have been told and lectured until the life has ebbed out of them, crammed down their throats until they choked on it. We don't need more telling. We want more showing. More metaphor. Something we can sink our teeth into and find sustenance. Transported to a place of transformation that invites us to deeper understanding of Love, Hope, Faith, and Forgiveness.




Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hormones---S'more-Moans; and Other Changes

I've always said hormones don't make you into someone you're not--they just exaggerate everything that you are.

Recently, my dear friend met with a bout of baby blues and we texted long distance trying to bouy her spirits. The overlap of her experience with mine was no mistake. No, I've never suffered post partum blues. But as my daughter's 18th birthday loomed on the horizon, I've been busy preparing for the launching of child number one. I've been proudly cruising along like an organizational cyclone. I created a folder for her senior year, complete with a calender page for each month from last summer until she leaves for college. All the deadlines and checklists were in place, carefully being checked off one by one.

     --taxes
     --FAFSA
     --SAT retakes
     --senior pics
     --open house invitations
     --cap & gown paid for
     --tent, table, chairs rented
     --paper products
     --photo albums for display
     --college applications, acceptance letters and matriculation fees sent
     --one last college visit
     --call financial planner for meeting about financial aid
     --food for open house

You get the idea.

I was sailing along, not only proud that I'd felt rather emotionally put together over this launching and letting go, but wondering why emptying the nest is considered so hard to do. Why, I'd even survived her spring concert and the senior night song as they were all announced and held hands to sing their senior song. I smiled full of joy and pride, as my daughter's face crumpled into a tearful sentimental remembrance that nearly kept her from singing. And still, not a tear from me. I was rather enjoying it, and proud of my daughter's progress, all the while thinking one only needs to be organized to make this whole shebang turn out successfully.

Urrr, wrong.

Enter hormones (peri-menopausal slash PMS--oh yeah)--and my daughter's prom. I turned into a blithering idiot needing to buy stock in Puffs or Kleenex, while texting my baby blue friend hoping for some sympathy. My beautiful girl had moments of doubt. Strong, confident, clear-minded and determined to celebrate, she ventured onward--but not before needing to bolster her slightly faltering strength with a pep talk from mom.


It had hit. The self doubt as a parent and the sudden realization that I have only three more weeks to get this parent thing right. Of course, I knew that wasn't true, but that my husband and I have spent her lifetime investing, praying, crying, trying, laboring over raising her up right. But in that moment, I faltered too.

Had we done ok? Would she really be alright?

My heart trembled as I asked her to forgive my mistakes and failings as I explained that her father and I, and Jesus, love her unconditionally no matter what, but the world out there that she's about to embark on--it doesn't love her, and it judges harshly and with conditions. And though we and her Savior have never demanded perfection, this world will require that she learn how to compete to achieve her dreams and aspirations. Prom had suddenly embodied everything to me about this world. Of course she knows she's the daughter of the King, and of this one thing I'm confident that it will bolster her through life's failures. But not without pain. Pain that I can't shield her from, whether in the nest or out.

Then I realized that these silly things called hormones come at such times of momentous, sweeping, intense change. And that this change involves great emotion, turmoil, and travail just as it did at her birth. And none of us are quite ready for such changes. We thought we were ready to drive and have our own keys. We thought we were grown up when we left home. We thought we were ready to become parents.

But in reality we probably weren't, and that's ok--because really no one ever is.

Then I remembered the faces of the other seniors during that senior night song. A few were teary-eyed along with my daughter. But honestly, most of them looked nearly stricken with fear and uncertainty, shocked by the sudden changes they are about to plunge into.


Eighteen years ago, I was two weeks overdue. I had a check list then too and it had been checkoff more than twice by the time I was that overdue! My daughter finally arrived after a difficult labor and 2 1/2 hrs of pushing, with much labor and travail. And so it repeats the process once more on this end of the journey of life.

Hormones. Moans. Changes. All part of being a mother.

Perhaps God knew we'd need to be stripped of all certainty that we have the world by the tail. Perhaps He knew we should be asking Him if we'd be okay, if we'll be alright. Perhaps He needs us to recognize that only as sons and daughters of the King, will be able to change--and be alright.