A Painful Poem

As a child in school, I dreaded the part of English class in which we had to write poetry–I was too precise and rule-bound, and the free-flowing creativity of poetry made me freeze up. So the poetry I tried to produce in those classes was probably quite painful for my teachers to read.

But the poem I want to share here is not painful because it’s poorly written. (In fact, it’s not written by me, so there is a much greater likelihood that it’s not painful poetry.) Rather, the reason I call it a painful poem is because it comes out of much pain and gives perspective on pain. And it was written for–and gifted to–a woman whose genuine joy in the midst of tremendous pain stands in stark contrast to my oft-complaining spirit in suffering that does not come close to hers.

This was written by Nan Powlison, and given to Joni Eareckson Tada as a birthday gift. Joni was speaking at the CCEF National Conference (which I was privileged to attend last month), and her birthday landed on the second day of the conference. So at the end of the evening session, in which David Powlison (Executive Director of CCEF and one of my favorite teachers) had been dialoguing  with Joni about joy and sorrow and suffering, Nan (David’s wife) came out to present this poem to Joni, in celebration of her birthday.

Joni is not first and foremost a quadriplegic, nor is she primarily an artist or an author or an advocate, but she is a woman whose life is defined by her relationship with God and her deep trust and delight in Him. But because she is also an artist, and because she suffers from quadriplegia and chronic pain, this poem from Nan is so beautifully descriptive of Joni’s deep desire.

Draw me into you, Lord

Rough me in and draw me

Sketch me and erase me

Sketch me and erase me

Trace me positive in negative space




By shades and shadows

A light design

Then fling me out

Across your page

Bold strokes for service

‘Til they see

Your face in mine

Draw me, Lord

(Nan Powlison)

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