roots & wings.

today, the goodbyes begin.

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It is more than a little strange to be talking about leavingagain and again— around here because, well, just as much as this online thing is real, it’s not. I’ve never met most of you, never laid it all out between cappuccino cups or ice cream spoons. We’ve never taken a late night drive together because the darkness was just too much, and I’ve never given your hand a squeeze as I stood up to leave the table.

And anyways, wherever you go, there the internet is. Or something.

But this leaving is changing things, changing me, and so I guess if you only know me in pixels, you can note that much.

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In case you didn’t know, the real line is “wherever you go, there you are.”

I think at some point I must have said, smugly, “hhhmph. Wherever you go, there God is.”

I probably thought Walt Whitman said it, and was annoyed with him. “I don’t contain multitudes, dummy. God does.” I think both can be true. I think God knows both to be true.

Whitman still annoys me a bit. But I try to be less smug about things.

But I still say the mis-attributed line my old way, in a shaky whisper:

wherever you go, there God is.

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I’ll step off a plane today into the arms of people I love–a celebration and a send-off, heart so swelled with all the lasts of my final 24 hours in Waco. I will drink it in much too fast, I know. Then I will drive to Dallas to meet Alia, so we may begin the three-day journey together to North Carolina. There are a few goodbyes I can’t bring myself to think about until they happen.

Amma Erin Jean keeps saying, “It’s just ‘until next time.'”

And she’s so right. [But I know she still has all the feels over that Head and the Heart song.}

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I’m late; I try to still be reverent as I speed walk through the nave, bowing quickly before the altar and cross before I turn to the left, just glimpsing the canopy of stars you can only see if you come directly to the Table. It’s still bright in the side chapel at the end of the day when the scarce summer crowd gathers there for midweek Eucharist. I think of this time last summer, when I wanted names to go with faces to go with “peace of the Lord be always with you.” How so much has changed. How much Love has changed things.

So at the end of the service, I really hear the commission for the first time:

Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fed to feed, and all that.

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i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
E. E. Cummings.
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All the food is unapologetically spicy and full of fat and we get raised eyebrows from the waitress because we don’t order like gringos. We roll our r’s and soften our d’s without thinking about it. The red chile in this 100-mile radius is like no other. The women shush my dad when he tries to sing along to Linda Ronstadt’s mariachi album playing in the background, but then I join him when Cielito Lindo comes on. We arrived when the late summer sun was setting the adobe on fire, so the nearly-empty restaurant doesn’t mind us too much.

We do loud flavors and spicy voices and strong personalities (that veiled critique we weave into who we really are.) I forget I am known differently here, where the desert sage blooms fierce and wholehearted–and briefly.

My grandmother tells me on the ride home, “There’s that old phrase ‘we give our children roots and wings.’ You’ve got the roots, girl.”

Now for the wings again.

the leaving.

“Burn it all.”

That’s what I keep saying to people. Burn all of it. I’ll leave tomorrow with the clothes on my back and the books in my car if it means I don’t have to decide anything about another possession again. But I guess tomorrow is closer than I think even though I’ve been saying that for months. My Waco-days are dwindling– I count about seven left across the next few weeks of traveling.

I hate packing.

I hate that I have accumulated so much stuff, brought on by my distraction of being, but mostly I hate that I am faced with it. That I am faced with the leaving at all. That I have more worthless things than icons of the ones that really matter. 

And I hate that I cannot remember the exact thing the prof said in class that day–

Getting rid of all your crap doesn’t mean anything unless you are willing to do something about the shit that encrusts your heart.

Something like that. I really don’t know where to start with either.

I am angry that I am stuffing in another scarf and not one more hurried-but-sweet friend-lunch between classes, or folding another damn V-neck T-shirt and not a thousand heart-talks passed over our cups as the sprinkles melt into the ice cream. I’m packing books I should have read this summer, and dates I should have made with people I love along with them. The books I can read later. The rest I am unsure of. Do I make long-distance promises to people I forgot to call when they were down the street? The question itself breaks my heart.

And then there’s the muscle memory to release, the ten thousand past selves playing scenes over and over in that one coffeeshop, in that one corner of campus I swore I’d never forget, in that one tree that accosts me even though I made it no such vow.

I know I am not the only one to have ever left a place I really love, but God, it’s the first time I’ve had to.

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About a year ago, I bought a library stamp for all my books. It seemed very important at the time to do this, to not only mark possession, but also place in the sum of parts. Somehow the composite collection was to make a sort of home. It seems pathetic at the end of the day, because it’s just a little front of control, I suppose. In truth, those books are ultimately not a monument to the information I have accumulated, but to the transformation that they offered. They mark the distance from one point to the next. They are almost as good as diaries.

But still, I find myself wanting to take another library, of memories, to take with me, to stamp my name in them. Maybe then I won’t lose them. And even if I do, at least the person who finds them will know to return them to me.

With every stamp, I yell, “MINE,” like the child.

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I grew up with only one recurring dream (if you don’t count the ocean-of-cats motif that somehow found its way into other nightmares).

I am on a field trip, and considering I was homeschooled for a long while, it’s a mystery as to how the images of a farmyard full of children and a yellow school bus with cracking plastic seats so vividly play out in my sleep. I am so happy to be at the farm (this is a true part– I will never remember my grandfather without thinking of sheep and cows). We laugh at the squealy pigs, we name them. We feed the goats.

But the chickens enrapture me. There are scads of newly hatched chicks, so fluffy you could die, and so when no one is looking, I stuff one into my jeans. 

I want the farm to be with me forever.

Somehow, I make it all the way back to the bus and halfway home with the chick undetected. I finally decide to release the little thing once I decide the bus has gone past the point of no return, and suddenly realize that I have instead.

I find the chick to be crushed and suffocated in my pocket.

And then I’d wake up.

I think that’s what I’m most afraid of. The leaving is hard, but I am more afraid of holding what I love most too closely, and that it will all die because of it.

I am afraid you will find me months from now sitting on a dirt road, with muck in my hair and mangled treasured things between all my fingers.

it doesn’t need to be counted, and neither do you.

do me a favor, and let this song play as soundtrack, if you can.

In the precious space between the rains and the heat that rolls in like a plague, I find myself going down to the river to pray,

O sisters let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O brothers let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

The Brazos river is not a pretty one, as anybody in these parts will tell you in a hot minute. You hear stories about what they pull out of it every so often, and when you fall in, you actually pray that only useful mutations will come as a result.

But for now it seems that I can only open my heart clean wide to the Creator in a wooden pew or on the concrete bank, and I’m a little lost everywhere in-between. The Brazos was named for the arms of God, anyway. That’s something. I take Bandit with me. He’s not the best companion for peace-seeking, I’ll admit. He’s all frenzy and no straight lines but also pants a crazed eagerness that makes me laugh without fail. He and I are kindred, I think.

These newborn ducklings are the small and beautiful gift that comes with staying in this Waco-town for the summer, a requisite I missed when I trekked away from here in the hot months past. They pattern the cloudy water like seeds scattered, but at the first sight of the wild-eyed but harmless dog who walks with me, mama ducks and papa ducks (with their bright white neckties) alike sound the alarm all the way down the bank, calling their babies to cluster together. It’s an ugly, angry, hilarious honking chorus and I told you that I go to the river to pray, but sometimes I go just to piss off the ducks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a small scene from When Women Were Birds. The narrator, a bird-lover, sighted a rare albino robin as a child:

When I reported this finding to our local Audubon chapter as an eight-year-old bird-watcher, the president said that because of my age, he could not legitimately count it as a “credible sighting.”

My grandmother simply shook her head and said, “You know what you saw. The bird doesn’t need to be counted, and neither do you.”

what if we didn’t need to be counted?

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I forget that I break bread with people I don’t agree with, all the time.

I’m not citing a virtue–it’s just how it is. That lady from work, the guy from church, not to mention your family–we share table space all the time with people who don’t share the same fine-tooth tenets, and heck, haven’t even given much thought to them anyway. As much as I love the internet, it’s a world in which words are all we got, baby. It allows us to cut the crap in some important ways, but plops us right into the middle of some crazy shit we wouldn’t be in otherwise.

Maybe it’s just that typically you don’t open in-person conversations with questions like”so…lady-pastors? What do you think?” or have the chance to creep someone’s about page.

But it’s more than that, I think.

It’s not that the dinner table can’t get ugly, because right now we are both imagining that one Thanksgiving when someone got too drunk, or refused to listen, or said something about “those people” that made you knock over your glass.

Maybe it’s the ooey gooey mystic in me, but there’s something about presence here that changes things. It’s easier to see Christ in a person than in an argument, I believe. We see both laugh- and worry-lines on one another’s faces, we know the truth of their grace and pain, and so we try to pause before we answer, we try to weight our words with love. It seems there’s less about proof and power here.

What if we didn’t need to be counted?

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I learned to like lipstick at the same time I realized I was learning to like myself.

So, the February day I got fired for my personality, I slapped bright fushia onto my lips as an act of personhood, as a message to the inner voice that started to believe the terrible untruths that had been flung my way, gifts suddenly called curse. There’s always something to apologize for, but not my very self. So, I wore loud lipstick, unapologetic for taking up space and sound.

But on days I anticipate the passing of the Bread and the Wine in a nave that bathes person and pew in jewel-tone stories beyond ourselves, I skip the lipstick. I know that among other things, the Cup we share brings us together, and doesn’t need the smudge of my individuality on the brim. I could intinct, but I want to drink full. So I wipe away that which has meant a great deal to me instead, sacrificing small and submitting to the person who kneels beside me.

Submission.

If you happen to be like me, that word makes you twitch a little. For the Christian egalitarians in the room, remember the phrase mutual submission,’ remember it’s the humility we’re all called to, married or not.

not erased, but increased.

Even to the point of personal pain.

what if we didn’t need to be counted?

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I think I would be braver.

At Freshman Convocation, just days shy of my first college class, I addressed my classmates from the same stage we would walk across four years later. There was a lot of syrupy motivational stuff, but there’s a line that my 18-year-old self speaks to me even now, and I wonder if I’ll ever learn it:

Let us not be stunned by our own strength when we do, in fact, discover it. Let us not fear the possibilities of what we can do or how far we can go. Let us not become hushed for fear of being listened to, or become less visible for fear of being seen.

I would be braver with my gifts, my goodness.

I think too, about Fr. Chuck’s sermon from way back when:

We either get really self-important with our gifts, or just deny that we have any at all. What if we stopped worrying about them and simply submit them to the medium of God’s love, through which our gifts were put to work for the Kingdom? […] Besides, it was Love that gave them to you in the first place.

In the life of love, the self is not obliterated, it is both celebrated and protected, paradoxically participating in radical selflessness, and always submitting, giving more.

It is a brave and holy thing.

what if we didn’t need to be counted?

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As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol’ way
And who shall wear the robe & crown?
Good Lord show me the way

What if we didn’t need to be counted?

Bread & Wine, Kolaches & West.

There is wine here to revive you,

there is bread to make you strong.

–the merciful priest, in Les Miserables the musical

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I’m a little late to be writing this post that I’ve been wanting to share for months now, since I first received Shauna Niequist’s Bread & Wine into my hot little hands. The tagline for the book is “a love letter to life around the table with recipes.” It is a book nearly in its own genre–part memoir, part sermon, part cookbook, part pulling up a chair. But before I get to this beautiful book, I have to share three reasons why this post has been delayed, because they are nevertheless tied up with the reasons you should put this book on your to-read list right away:

bread&wine

1.  I DEVOURED (no pun intended) the first half of the book in the first two days it was in my possession–but then it moved into the I-don’t-want-to-finish-it-because-I-never-want-to-be-done-with-this-amazing-book territory. So I didn’t open it for a while, though I continued to carry it everywhere. (Does anyone else do this with books? Am I the only weird one?)

2.  Then, two days before I was supposed to write about it in these here parts, I found myself in a metal-crunching, air-bag-deploying car accident in the middle of the interstate with one of my best friends. (Everyone is OK, thanks for asking. Our cars are a bit of another story.) The stress and the shock took over our bodies and minds, and I walked away from the computer for a few days.

3. THEN, Monday morning I woke up to two black eyes (see part of #2’s healing process) and a world in fear: the start of a terrible week, including the explosion in West, TX, less than 20 miles away from me. I was heartsick and glued to various screens, ravenous for any information about dear ones in the Midwest and Boston, but I’ll admit, more immediately for my neighbors in a town so close to any Baylor student’s heart.

These latter two points have produced a week of pacing, praying, crying, and calling, and I’m just now starting to deal.

So in light of all this as well as the less dramatic waves in the tide, let me tell you that Shauna speaks my language when it comes to grief and hope and healing: food. She reminds us that meals have the power to both bring us down to earth as well as raise us up to walk again. She reminds us that our hunger forces us to slow down, and feeding is one of the easiest and nearest ways to show love.

These were the truths I kept thinking of last week–when Alia and I finally made our way home after two hours with twisted metal on the highway, we forced ourselves to take a minute and eat. In hot curry and slippery noodles, we found a bit of healing. (We ended up doing a lot of eating that day. It’s how both of us deal.)

czechstopmushroomcloudinstagram-crop_0

Photo by andybartee on Instagram.

And it’s West’s Czech Stop kolaches that make it so near and dear to road trippers and Baylor students–any one of us can tell you one or twenty stories of late-night runs to West when we should have been doing something else. It’s a rite of passage and a “last” you try to to sneak in before graduation. So maybe it’s no surprise that it’s this story about the bakery feeding victims and first responders for free through the night of the explosion, and Connor’s post about prayer by way of kolaches that brought me the quickest to tears after a night of feeling so helpless, though so nearby. It’s true–food addresses something most human and most sacred at the same time.

I saved the end of the book for the Sunday after everything, the day I knew I would write this post. However, I didn’t know how apt the timing was until I found myself crying through it, sitting in a coffeeshop 17 miles away from headline news, heart raw from such a week:

There will be a day when it all falls apart.

There are things I can’t change. Not one of them. Can’t fix, can’t heal, can’t put the broken pieces back together. But what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for […], the presence, the listening, the praying with and for on the days when it all falls apart, when life shatters in your hands.

So I’m grateful for food present in the midst of grief, for stories like the bakery’s, for the overwhelming amount of physical goods donated to the West relief. Every morsel serves as light in the darkness, it’s God made known in the taking, breaking, and sharing of bread. It is in community and Communion, in the Eucharist and eucharists, that we find hope and healing, but also the Presence of Christ who mourns with us.

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I promise I didn’t give away the ending for you. I could have written so much more–a whole memoir-response–about this book. I could tell you about how this book made me create space at my table for those I love, how in a lot of ways, it teaches me to grow up. I’ve told a lot of people that the book itself, Shauna’s writing, is comfort food. Buy it. Read it. Love it. Give it. 

The other plug I’ll make is by borrowing Shauna’s words: “It’s so easy to think that because you can’t dod something extraordinary, you can’t do anything at all.”  This week carried a lot of grief for a lot of people, but I at least know there are ways to make a big difference in the town of West, TX. 

If you’re far away, consider giving monetarily towards any of the following relief funds: West’s local bank fund, the Baylor West Relief Fund,  the Salvation Army’s West Relief Fund, the American Red Cross’s Heart of Texas chapter, or #SongsforWest (a really awesome project, check it.) Even a little helps.

If you’re near West, visit this page or this page to get updates on volunteer opportunities. Also, give blood.

a saint, a stray, & starting over.

We mused together once (coffee cups cooling between us, or road stretched ahead—-the soul-talks blur), that to miss someone, to say it out loud, might be the most vulnerable thing.

What did we say? It means–

Your presence means something to me. Something important. You’re gone, and I feel that.

We giggled over our own stilted definition, but hmmming along knowing that saying so points to our chipped paint.

“I miss you,” means I’m missing something. It means admitting that I am somehow without.

I wrote out those words slow and scripty in a letter to a friend. I’m not sure I knew how much I meant it, how much like an eggshell edge it made me feel. That was almost a week ago, and I’ve been finding fragile pieces everywhere, in everything, since then. I’m anticipating upheaval, the turnover, the emptiness clothed in fulness of life that’s coming in four months when I move away.

Four months–a lifetime, a breath. I’m feeling it already. I mourn loss too soon or too late.

I think I’m starting to miss people while they are standing in front of me–scraping food off the plate, or handing me the phone–close enough to touch, to hold.

But I think, too, I’m starting to miss parts of myself.

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I think I’ve been missing God for a while now, and I realized the other day when I was doing the dishes that I’m not quite sure if or when we said goodbye. 

Maybe this is the axle.

Maybe I’m at the wall (to quote Lauren Winner for the thousandth time), but mostly I’m pretty sure I’m running around trying to make noise in every other room of the house, refusing to slow down enough to acknowledge it’s there.

To slow down enough to say, I’m without.

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I ask, all frustration and self-chastising,

Why can’t I just get over this?

Why can’t I stop poking pouty sticks around in the dirt, like a child?

It’s Eastertide–why can’t I stand upright like the Resurrected?

She stops me, firmly,

This isn’t nothing. This is real.

I have this conversation again with another on the phone–the same why-can’t-I-tear-this-out-of-myself.

She tells me, soft,

Honey. You’re leaving your Camelot. You’re going this alone. It’s okay to feel it.

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The head-nod was important for calling out some of the shadows, the rattling echoes: to point and say, “I see it too, I hear it too.”

The anxiety, the dark is not made up.

And then the knowing that whispers,

but you have to do the work of starting over, love. Even if you start over every day.

These things do come without invitation, like a mean stray cat; but there’s a difference between watching it lurk on your stoop and letting it in the front door, feeding it your best.

I’ve learned that acedia, the restless-sadness-heaviness-sluggishness that comes to visit mind-body-spirit is edged out in the ways that don’t seem brave, or even faithful–like small acts of love, like listening, like seeking the things that once taught grace.

St. Thomas Aquinas writes that there are two paths for facing it, the sorrow in particular. The first we expect from the cerebral Doctor–we overcome the vice through grace with caritas, with virtue, with prayer, with perspective on our own troubles. Good counsel, if hard to grasp at times.

The second is more surprising–

A good night of sleep. A warm bath. A glass of wine.

Before I even take his advice, it catches in my throat.

It sounds silly, but here the saint points me to the Incarnated God, closer than my skin.

Bodily remedies for us as embodied souls, ensouled bodies.

Surely, He is not far from any one of us.

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The thing is, there aren’t any formulas, not really. We simply begin the work of starting over. Starting over every day.

on yellow leaves & words in the wind.

The official tour of the Divinity School ends, and I wander across the street to the glory of the sprawling Duke gardens. I wander and wonder. I pace beneath a tree heavy with shocking yellow sharp against the crisp blue sky, almost as azure as the one in New Mexico. Chest tight, teeth grit.

And if peace can hurry, it came in like a rushing wind. Or maybe it snuck in like a breath; I’m not sure.

Four months later, the letter came. The tears, the heart set to burst with so much right.

Then I lost the letter. Then I lost track of time. Then I counted down and realized that there are only so many sunsets left in this wonk-town, the cushion of this little year dissolving before me. The thought of leaving home after home left me aches in the ten minutes of extra darkness that keeps me in bed that much longer; I refuse to stir until hope peeks through the blinds.

I told someone recently that a big part of me wants to be free of all these anchors. I’m realizing again, that this means I must be pushed out to sea.

1,200 miles away, I return often to that space beneath all that golden canopy, to walk the carpet gilt. I wait to find the wind, my heartbeat then–again. The calm of that certainty, the terror of it, too.

The single leaf arrests me, arrested, at the end of a branch.

How difficult it must be to be so much beauty only in order to fall, to fall only to make way for newness of life?

But perhaps, no matter what sky you’re under, this is the great glory:

to make room for Resurrection.

No matter how small.

to you on the brink of things [a handwritten exhortation.]

Today, another handwritten post, written to a past version of myself, perhaps. [Perhaps to a future one as well.]

Some of this is particular to, say, a graduating senior, but I hope you find something for yourself here, too.

I suspect this might go better for you if you click through each image.

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