Dwell Retreat Reflections IV – Moving …Forward!

     “Surgery for children whose feet are on backwards”; I was arrested by the headline. As the CBN newscaster described Operation Blessing’s featured outreach that day, I rejoiced at their good work pledging to continue giving. However, the picture of an otherwise well-formed human being, but with feet turned backwards, became an imprinted metaphor. Often, at crucial points in my life, I have felt myself caught in a mindset of wanting to go forward but equally yearning to go in the opposite direction. 
     Sitting in the midst of several interactions at the Dwell Retreat was like that for me, as it began to dawn that ‘publishing’ in this season would need to be at first by Internet. Every skeleton in my ‘techno-phobe’closet began to rattle, and I was ready to jump ship. I had just started to become comfortable with following a few blog sites by email, taking some initial steps editing by Word & employing Dropbox, and even resurrecting my own blog, (for the retreat) abandoned a year before —  but Facebook, that would be a stretch. And, as once again that boney finger of Jody’s was used to launch me into a new paradigm, I understood why there had been a tiny dinosaur in my welcome packet. 
     Seasoned blogger, Amy, smiled benevolently as we shared our parting words, “It’s okay! I did not start here where you see me today? Just go through the paces as we all have to and next thing you know…”. That explained another cute inclusion in that infamous packet — a photo dated 1900, of a group of African-American, elementary school students on the grounds of Howard University, Washington, DC, going through a calisthenics workout ( looked like the hokie-pokie!). Fully dressed in pinafores, button boots, britches and sailor, bow tie & even ruffle collars (on boys!), they were the picture of cuteness, though all obviously under duress. As I faced the prospect of starting a blog and getting on Facebook I definitely felt like the little boy in the middle of the group, his head cocked to the side with hands on hips, left foot out, a large floppy bow at his chin, and face declaring, “This is not what I expected PE to be”.
     But as sure as that left foot was out I knew the right one would follow. One of my primary prayers as I had ventured forth to Dwell was that I would cease working with a ‘slack hand’ with regard to my call to write. A dozen volumes or so of devotional journals, littered with song lyrics, poems, essays and letters to God, and a half-hearted blog start-up, hardly qualified as answering a call. I realized that though I relished the spontaneous aspects of creative, inspirational writing I needed to take His yoke — easy yes, but yoke nonetheless. Though a lover of order in most other aspects, I resisted any constraints on my writing once I left the halls of academia.
     I had ended my college career with a letter from the literary journal, The Caribbean Writer, agreeing to publish my poem, ‘The  Bearer’ in that year’s issue. Thrilled that it would appear in order next to a piece by the great Langston Hughes, I knew I was on my way. Now here I was again poised on the cusp of potential, the threshold of opportunity. A tide to take at the flood, a ‘chiros’ in God’s timeline for me. But also hearing, as I had at other times, with performance driven ears, the admonition of James, to “Show (now) my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18), I felt an all too familiar shrinking feeling before that great mountain.

     But mercifully, that morning, I also heard the words of the Revelation to John in chapter 3:7-8.
The words that greeted me on the morning of the September 11, the second day of the retreat, 

   “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens, …I know your works. See I have set before you AN OPEN DOOR, and no one can shut it; for you have little strength, you have kept my word, you have not denied my name”.

     The phrase ‘open door’ jumped out at me, from the Mark Batterson devotional I was using at the time, and from my reading in Colossians, as the apostle Paul appealed for prayer that God would “Open up to (them) a door for the word…”, and it echoed in my mind from the last line of the third in my Kansas Sunrise series that I had read on the plane coming in. Deep in my knower, the last morning as we fellowshipped, I told the ladies  I had a bridge to cross, literally & figuratively.

     I knew God spoke to me of the Internet, that great portal, that great front door to almost the entire earth — Facebook & a blogsite — a leash I needed to take to it, if I would ride the morning wind with Him in this season. And my soul said “yes”, as I put my right foot out, though it shook more than a little, and crossed the threshold; all of me heading in the same direction.

To Go Home
I tried to go back home today 
But found I did not know the way- 
The hills too green or else too brown 
Smiles too wide, too severe the frown. 
Prepare the way for going back? 
With pen and sword there was a lack
A lack within a severed soul 
Island adrift without a pole 
A sea of grass , the biggest sky 
Must learn to fish or else I’ll die 
Must find home in another’s sea 
‘Lone on the range’s no place to be
To be’s to find my family’s face 
Within the wider human race 
For e’en this temperamental clime 
Can’t keep sunflower from her time 
Or place in the sun, if only she 
Knows facing up’s the way to be
To be’s to catch an island dawn 
Upon a continental morn 
Then cast it back, its scales and all 
Those rosy frames now way too small 
To be’s to look with naked eyes 
And thus to catch a new sunrise
Sunrise which shows new sunny ways 
To wield new lines , new temperate rays 
Which just as well dispel the dark 
In foreign or familiar park 
Capt’ring what’s been hidden there 
From hasty hands or eyes of fear
Fear’s not the fare to feed the soul 
That needs an anchor or a pole 
But lines that send roots deeper still 
Beyond one’s private sea or hill 
That open up the great front door 
That say here’s home and so much more.
by Denise Stair-Armstrong
© Jan. 28, 1995

Author: Denise S. Armstrong

e teacher. She gratefully enjoys a thirty-years-strong marriage, which has joyfully produced three offspring. Jamaican by birth, Denise's work reflects her family’s cross-cultural journey. She is a blogger in poetry, short-form essays, ethnic sketches and musicals. Her work has also appeared in The Caribbean Writer--a literary publication of the University of the Virgin Islands, on SA Radio Cape Pulpit’s – ‘Voices of Change’, as well as on Jamaican television. She considers herself privileged to be a contributor to one of today’s most exciting online communities of Christian artists—The Cultivating Project. At present, she resides in Europe.

5 thoughts on “Dwell Retreat Reflections IV – Moving …Forward!”

  1. Shalom precious friend! Wow – you are such a blessing to me, I just want to tell you that. I am not sure why but, when I saw you in the GLory Writers group on FB (which I myself only joined 5 weeks ago too!) I just saw the light of Messiah and His goodness somehow reflected in you, a quickening in my spirit. Please don't think I say this lightly or am some wierdo – I dont usually say this to people over the internet, but I just sense your love and surrender. God's precious child. Thank you for sharing your words, they actually spoke to me about something else I have been asking God about this passed week, awesome! Be blessed dear sister Aliyah


  2. The feeling is mutual Aliyah! I loved the forthright boldness of your spirit from day 1. As I wrote in my emailed response, it will be a joy to meet you in person some day. Till then let's keep glorifying Him in full-hearted obedience. Thanks for reading and commenting! Denise


  3. Denise, I am (very!) late to reading this. I love the image of stepping across the threshhold, \”all of me heading in the same direction.\” Wow.(and I rejoice at the connection between all you Glory Writers–it does my heart so good!)


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