Rainbow in the Sky

I’m sorry that my appearances on this blog are so abrupt–so few and far between. I’ve been saving my creative energy for stuff I can send off to a legitimate journal for publication. But this blog is good for me… when I remember to write in it.

I’m in Hattiesburg, Mississippi now, working on my MA in Creative Writing. I was accepted to 4 MFA programs but wasn’t fully funded in any of them, so I opted to go to the MA route where I have full tuition remission with an assistantship.

I thought that living by myself again would open the door for my heart to get straightened out with God. That maybe I would feel like a normal person again or who I had always thought I was in my head. It turns out I never was who I thought I was. It was like there were two different Brookes running parallel to each other, only they were going in opposite directions.

One of these Brookes had this adoring, worshipful relationship with Jesus and the other one was very angry and very sad and had little trust in God.

A week or so ago, I was sitting on the sofa, drinking my morning coffee. My eyes were closed and I was having one of those really rare quiet moments where I wasn’t thinking about what to write or what I needed to read or what in my apartment needed cleaning. There were no cats bidding for my lap or requesting more kibble. And it was like Jesus said, “I want you to sit here and imagine what your life would be like if you were happy.”

Now, there’s a part of my imagination that can be really dark. Some of my stories come from that part of my imagination but this time, I imagined light. I remembered feelings. Feelings I had when Jesus spoke to me and I knew it was Him. Or when I felt loved by Him and was in deep communion with him. I imagined what it would be like as a person who had joy. I imagined healthy relationships. I imagined inspired creativity.

It was sort of like Jesus wanted me to practice changing how my brain worked. That I had gotten used to thinking negative thoughts all day and that the whole mechanism of my mind needed to be rebooted.

Yesterday, I was listening to this podcast by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser. They were discussing a new album they released and they played this song by Phyllis Unkefer. Let me tell ya, it was a snotfest in my bathroom as I listened. I’ll tell you why in a minute but listen to this first.

One morning, a few years ago, I was spending time with God and like I always did at that point in my life, I asked him what He wanted me to know that day. He didn’t really say anything to me but He showed me a picture of a giant rainbow. Hmmmm… that’s all you got? I thought. Well, rainbows do symbolize God’s promises, so I guessed it was a good thing though I wasn’t all that impressed.

I went to small group that very night but left early because it just felt like my life was crap and I didn’t want anyone else to see me so miserable. I was a single, thirty-something  woman working at a job I hated. The one thing I did love, leading worship, had been taken away from me, mostly because of pettiness from others. I had a lot of resentment and anger and hurt. On the way home, I looked up and a giant rainbow was stretched across the sky. I pulled over to the side of the road and stared at it, in tears. It was exactly the kind of thing I had known Jesus to do in my life.

Listening to that song yesterday reminded me, again, that we can live in hope. Hope is the place God wants us to reside. Our imagination can be a place where rainbows and beauty and struggle coexist. Battles and wars have a kind of beauty too. That’s why we watch war movies with all their bloody gore, because we live to see victory at the end of them. I think we all need start imagining ourselves winning the battle, hand in hand with Jesus.

 

The Effects of Mood on Creativity

I have become a little more self-aware when it comes to my mood effecting focus on my work. I have a very long way to go, however, before I am able to change my constant negative thinking, or before God can, rather. I do believe it takes some intensive effort, not to mention, extended time to concentrate on a more positive train of thought.

I think growing up in a institutionally religious household (I was the daughter of a pastor), has sort of caused me to look at the world and life through a sense of doom rather than a sense of wonder. While writing about dark ideas and thoughts can be really interesting, I’m not sure that is the only thing I want to be known for when it comes to my art. The following guided mediation video is a good start:

 

Art and Faith. How Do We Navigate the Hate?

Art is supposed to reflect something true about ourselves. Something that comes from the inside of ourselves. It’s supposed to be vulnerable and honest and expressive.

Let’s talk that word, vulnerable.

Being vulnerable in the context of our art means that we risk the possibility of judgement. That we risk opening our souls to others and having them be torn apart. I think that has been my greatest challenge this year with my writing. Mostly because I want to write about God. I want to write about who He is and about my fears concerning Him. About my doubts about the Church. About my belief and faith in the reality of Him even though I’m often responded to with skepticism and cynicism from both my academic peers and advisers.

And I don’t even allow myself to risk people of faith reading my work. I have this fear that it’s just too honest for them. They wouldn’t understand it. They wouldn’t understand the art of it.

But this is who I am. I love Jesus. I adore Him. As “uncool” and mocked as it is to do so.

The other day, on good ol’ FB, I noticed a meme directed towards Believers. It was honestly one of the most hateful, spiteful things I have ever seen directed toward the church. I was enraged because it specifically targeted Christians who have been slaughtered and brutalized for their faith.

I shouldn’t have been very surprised though. Christians are really the only group that has been allowed to be stereotyped and pigeon-holed. Literally every other demographic is protected from this type of behavior but it has been totally acceptable to treat all Christians exactly the same. As someone who considers myself pretty progressive, this has been extremely difficult to navigate. Even with highly talented and renown writers such as Flannery O’Conner and Marilynne Robinson, artists who believe in and write about Jesus– even they had to work much harder than others to achieve respect in their field.

Let’s go back to the stupid and cruel meme on Facebook, though. I sort of embarrassed myself in the comments section. The build-up of rage over the period of the last couple of years, having to listen to people criticize my faith, or anyone who writes about; listening to the mocking; watching the eyerolls… all of it was unleashed in a tirade of contempt toward the folks that were dismissing the deaths of many, many people, like it was a joke. Like it was some lie we Christians made up to try to exonerate ourselves from all of the evil we have supposedly committed.

Everything felt really dark that night as I laid in bed. I couldn’t sleep because it felt like hate was starting to consume our entire world. It was starting to consume me. I have had a problem with a lot of the church since the 2016 elections and now I was having a real problem with the other side of the population, as well. It just didn’t feel very hopeful. Nightmares were starting to become consistent as the week went on. It just wasn’t a stellar few days, for me.

But this morning, as I have done with many, many mornings in the last two years, I skipped church. The little group of people that meet in a living room just minutes from my own has been a breath of clean air when I have needed it, but I needed space today.

I laid in bed and I wrote to God. I wrote to Him and I listened to worship music and I focused on Him in my head and I thought about how beautiful He was and how merciful He was and how much He loved me. He reminded me that I have a story to tell and maybe that story will include my failures during that Facebook tirade. I guess that’s where friendship with God begins, though. We are just honest with him about where we are at, except unlike our critics, He’s not ready to pounce on us and tear us to shreds.

 

 

 

 

Why Read Women Writers? An Interview with Bill Wolfe — Jane Friedman

While scrolling through my Facebook feed some years ago, I came across a link to Bill Wolfe’s website, Read Her Like an Open Book. Someone had posted a link to a book review he’d written, and I’d clicked on it, finding myself at a website dedicated to reviewing and showcasing books by women. As a…

via Why Read Women Writers? An Interview with Bill Wolfe — Jane Friedman

Mississippi Mama

The verdict is in and I have finally accepted a fully-funded offer as a Graduate Teaching Assistant with the Center for Writers at The University of Southern Mississippi!!! But now what?

…..OMG I have to plan! I’m moving in less than three months to another state. I somehow have to come up with a security deposit, pet deposit for two cats, money to rent a truck. OMG OMG OMG!!!

And it’s going to be HOT in Hattiesburg. I need teaching clothes that have ventilation. I need to make sure I remove all body hair and that my toes are done so I can wear sandals!

And am I really prepared to write at the graduate school level? Am I articulate enough? Am I enough of an artist? Have I detoxed myself from all cliche?

… Calm down, Brooke. Look at this picture, and remember that on Saturday you completed your BA in English–with honors–at the age of 39 while working almost full-time. If you can do that and not die, you can pretty much do anything.

Grad dad
Dad and I at graduation.

Fast Forward Dreams

There was a time in my life, years ago, when I received very vivid dreams, night after night after night. I believe most of these were from God, speaking to me about parts of me that needed to be healed, warning me about problems around me, and filling me in on some plans He has for my future. I still get them occasionally, but I think the busy-ness of my life has sort of absorbed any room for that, at the moment. And maybe some of that also has to do with some disappointment and unbelief I’ve accumulated over the years because of dreams that remain unfulfilled.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to recall a hazy memory of a dream I had about eight years ago. As I was picking through my office, trying to pack up for my move this weekend, I glanced at an open box of journals and thought… I’m going to find you, you haunting dream, you. I found my arms elbow-deep in a box of old journals, smeared with ink and even slightly speckled with mold from having sat in my mother’s damp basement storage for over a year.

I found the journal from the year I had the dream, 2011, when I was still living in Minnesota, working with an arts-based ministry. I poured over dream after dream, meticulously. It was honestly hard to put down after I realized so many things that I had dreamed of really had come true. That God had already completed a few of these things since my return to Arkansas. Finally, toward the end of the journal I found it.

I was at a conference and I saw Jonathan David Helser (one of my worship heroes) standing behind a merchandise table. He was so nice and we talked for quite awhile and then he asked me what I did (what was my profession?). I told him very confidently, “I’m a writer.” After I said that, I told him I was also a songwriter and a musician. 

“Isn’t that what you are doing now?”, you ask? Well, I am trying to, but I wasn’t writing then. At least not seriously. I was mostly playing music and singing and worshiping. That was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I think I was a little disappointed after that dream because I felt like writing was my second choice in terms of artistic expression. But God doesn’t disappoint. He moved my heart back into the place where my primary call had always been, since I was a little girl.

I hope to do music and worship again. It is definitely something God has placed in my heart. But as God has always done in my life, He directs my path without allowing me to see what direction He is gently prompting me towards.

If you are struggling on where your place is in this world, start to think about what made you happy in your childhood. Begin to think about the things you have always loved to do and found fulfillment in. Consider the dreams you’ve had and allow yourself to be very quiet so that you can hear the conversation you are having with God in your mind.

Separate Pieces of Meat

I enjoy cooking but not for the sweet euphoria of sitting down to the very meal I have curated for myself. I enjoy it for the same reasons I enjoy running on a well-shaded path or painting a still-life. I give myself over to the rhythm and concentration of it. The deliberate focus and attention it requires to cook a meal without burning the butter or heating olive oil to the extent that it explodes into flames inside my oven–all of that distracts me from the frantic energy of my mind.

But once I sit down to that meal–sometimes with friends or some person I’m dating, sometimes with my cat lunging toward my plate– I can’t help but think of where it all began. That fleshy, pink chicken breast wet with thawed saline injections or the pool of milk and gelatinous eggs with tiny flecks of black pepper or herbs that look disturbingly similar to insects.

Suddenly, I have lost my appetite.

No, I’d prefer to eat something that I have not seen the guts of–something someone else has prepared to appeal to every sense, including my eyes. I don’t think about a chicken carcass being stripped from bones when I sit down to a bowl of tikka masala at an Indian restaurant. I don’t think about a pig being roasted and smoked before I bite down on a pulled pork taco that was handed to me from a food truck.

I think, sometimes, I’d prefer not to look at where I began, either. If I could only sit down to a plate of the new me and not have to remember all the false starts and steps. All of the mistakes. All of the unhealed parts that lingered for years and placed their ugly stamp on every part of my life.

The beauty of cooking a meal is not only the method and skill it takes to achieve something that tastes wonderful but the time it takes to cook. Time and patience, actually. Staring at a pot of water won’t cause it to boil.  If we are too hungry to arrive at our destination, we will inevitably bite into bloody flesh.