This poetry project was the vision of my mother, Eileen. She began work in 1992; her first poem being “Psalm 100.” I am not entirely sure what first triggered her idea to write an entire collection of poetry; though a letter in her writing files seem to indicate that a poetry contest planted, perhaps, the initial seed.
She spoke of her psalm poem project often, frequently texting or emailing me to tell me when she had completed another, how many she had completed, and how many she had left to write. Through the years, her number of completed poems went from one in 1992 to seventy-five in 2013.
A Stage 3B ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2008 did little to slow her down. She continued to joyfully hope and dream and bring her vision of these poems into fruition through eighty-plus rounds of chemo, forty-plus rounds of radiation, five surgeries, countless hospital stays, various tests and procedures, and round-the-clock chronic pain.
The last week of her life, she lay in bed (many times passed out from the strong pain meds she was on) unable to write, but gripping a pen in her hand, fast asleep, with her Bible and poetry notebook on her lap. Two or three days before she died, her sister-in-law (my aunt) asked her, “Are you anxious to be free of this world?”
Mom replied, “No, I want to live. I have things left to do. I want to finish my psalm poems.”
The Lord had other plans.
After the funeral, I brought Mom’s (extremely organized!) poetry files home with me and began to pray over the possibility of completing the project. It sounded very romantic—a daughter taking up the mantle of her deceased mother and finishing her manuscript—but was I up for such a task? The Lord had given this vision to her, not me, and while I considered myself to be a writer, I never considered myself to be a poet, and attempting to write my first psalm poem in April 2013 only further evidenced that I was not! After two poems, I shelved the project, believing it was not my calling, but I prayed and said, “Lord, if you want me to finish this project, equip me to do so.”
About a month passed, and my joyful, independent life began to crumble. One night, I cried out aloud to the Lord, “God, what is happening? What are you doing?” And the still, small voice in my head replied with perfect ease and calm, “I am making you a psalmist.”
In the wake of my mom’s death, I also lost my job, my apartment, and several dear friends. With each new loss, I would grab my pen and pour out all of the agonizing emotions of loss, hopelessness, despair, anxiety, and abysmal loneliness—writing psalm poems at the exact moments that my heart was shattering.
Every single poem contained in this volume was written with the ink of cancer, chemo, radiation, fear, physical pain, loss, death, and heartache. Even at this very moment, penning this preface, many of the heartaches of the last year have not been resolved—no “silver lining” has appeared to ease the sorrow of all of the losses or to answer the question, “Why?” But I do have this one consolation: through it all, by the grace of God, I did not hang up my harp.
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-3)
Mom did not hang up her harp, either. Even up to the last week of her life, she kept reaching for her psalm poem notebook. In words like Job, I heard her tell many people in her last days, “The Lord gave me sixty-two years of joy and prosperity; will I curse him if the last five years are hard?” Even once exiled to the Babylon of cancer and death, the strains of her harp could be heard—indeed, can still be heard in the pages of this book.
Our vision for this poetry project was not ultimately to rewrite the psalms, to find 150 poetry forms, or even to get a book published. Our vision for this book of poetry is that hurting, hopeless saints, in the very midst of the furnace of affliction, would, despite all perceived silence from God and feelings abandonment, believe that just above their heads, seen only by the eyes of faith, is an unfurled banner, flapping wildly in the storms of heartache and suffering, its embroidered letters spelling out, “Love! My banner over you is LOVE!”
Or, in Mom’s own words, “When my husband and I lost our first daughter, the psalms comforted me. When three more babies miscarried, the psalms healed my broken heart. When our second daughter was born with massive birth defects, the psalms encouraged me to live a holy life despite disappointments. When our grown son turned to drugs and a dissolute lifestyle, the psalms modeled how to dispel fear when life spins out of control. As I read, meditate, and memorize the psalms, my needs are met, and I am led to worship a loving and merciful Lord. It is my keen desire to help other hurting and hungry people discover the beauty and wisdom waiting for them in the psalms.”
Amen. It is worth picking up this book for your soul or for those you love.