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.

—————————–

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.

——————————-

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.

——————————-

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.

—————————-

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

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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.

this online thing [or why i am still here, with you].

We spread a leopard-print blanket across the table for the still-life art project Erica will teach the kids from the local mission later that afternoon. She asks me about the pinched forehead, what is wrong.

Oh, the internet, I say, dropping buzzwords from Impromptu Sex Week and the Superbowl Beyoncé Flare-up and so on. I’m not explaining well, I’m fumbling and frustrated and can’t decide how I feel about anything. My gut-reactions don’t translate to formulated thoughts until much later and sometimes I want the noise, inside and outside, to just stop.

You know, you don’t have to do this, she says, her eyes all honesty and looking to the deep like always.

The afternoon sun flecks through high windows above a wall with hand-me-down paint onto hand-me-down chairs that sit in this room that was handed down to Erica to make a bit of beauty and a bit of difference in a city whose poverty and violence is downright ugly and shocking. The context of her words isn’t lost on me.

I am standing in the middle of as-real-as-it-gets Waco, talking about what to most is only a virtual reality.

And I know what she means, at the heart of it–there is a danger in spending your life and love online completely. And maybe there is a temptation to construct an online reading and writing life as a venue to simply “make a lovely little speech to yourself,” as a beloved professor once quoted.

This I understand, struggle with some days. Do I talk a good talk and trample my neighbor? If I debate and spin poetry and retweet and  and have not love, caritas, agape, the kind of love that acts and habits and moves and shakes: sharing blessedness and wills the Good to my neighbor (both on- and offline), then I am only a gong or a cymbal; I am nothing, I gain nothing.

You don’t have to do this.

This online thing. I know.

—————————————————————–

But I do.

Because first of all, this isn’t virtual reality, a veneer, pontificating. The stuff I read and the stuff I hope to be writing is the stuff that composes your real life and mine, and it matters.

It matters.

Feminism, spiritual practices, abuse, relationships, parenting, growing up, sexual ethics, justice, racism, prayer and all of it. All of it affects and informs the way I live and love in that caritasagape way. It is the perhaps the matter itself of that living and loving.

Because here is another beautiful and difficult thing about this online business:

we come with our bad and good rhetoric as well as our bad and good stories;

with our tempers and with our grace;

with our education and experience and sometimes without it;

with numbered lists and paragraphs and randomly bolded words;

we come with our best theology and our deepest hang-ups;

with our passion and with our reason;

with typos and flare-ups and words we didn’t mean;

with a dash of sacred profanity and the temptation to make the sacred profane;

with our heresy and our holiness;

with our arbitrary semi-colons and run-on sentences like this one.

It’s kindof a mess but isn’t that how life is?

So that means it takes a bit of bravery to navigate these waters at times for one reason or another, and I’m not the only one who thinks about giving it up sometimes. But I guess I’ll just say I’m not altogether afraid to get my heart a little too involved with my patience, my prayers, my compass and the stars to guide me.

Because like I said, these things matter, and with the humility, tenderness, care, and whole-hearted truth-seeking I have witnessed in my blogroll, I think these things can matter and manifest in a holy and faithful way, to lead us to the good work that needs to be done.

On- and offline.

I’ve seen a bit of magic and a lot of Church here, and I want to join the effort to pass the peace with the person sitting in this pixelated pew with me.

—————————————————————–

when it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.

–Beasts of the Southern Wild

The rest of the story is that I keep reading you people because there’s a whole mess of URLs  undeniably threaded into this growth-history and future of mine and a big part of why I brush my teeth every morning next to the same God.

[and sometimes, every once in a while, online friends are real friends, too.]

So, cheers, Deeper Story and Prodigal and She Loves and Sarah and Suzannah and Micha and Rachel and Emily M. and Emily W. and Joy  and Alise and Alece and Nish and Dianna and Leigh and Seth and Amber and Hilary  and Margaret and Annie and Amy and Elora  and Addie and Elizabeth and Alyssa and Shaney and Kiefer and of course Preston and the other lovely, ragged, brave, hollering, gentle, hella smart, pastoral, preachy, comforting ones that I haven’t named or known yet.

Thank you and keep going–keep changing my life.

Thy, will be done.

On Friday, I send sixty-one emails to strangers beginning with the line,

we regret to inform you

ending with

we wish you well in your academic pursuits.

I chew my fingernail to the quick, watching all sixty-one blink into my ‘sent’ folder on the little PC screen. A grad student walks in to check the mail, making odd noises as he enters. The copy machine is is out of staples, and insists on telling me so.

I try not to cry.

———————-

My friend Erica doesn’t tell people, not even close friends, about works-in-progress. She believes she is less likely to labor toward her goals if she gets the immediate relief of divulging her plans.

I am not good at following this line of action, but there are a lot of things Erica wins at.

I have told a number of people, even on this little corner of the internet, that I have applied to grad school.

But only one.

One school, one fragile egg in the basket.

—————————-

A year ago, around this time, I received a “we regret to inform you” email.

Three hours later, the guys and I were toasting what were probably French 75s in what was probably the incorrect glassware, and no bitters. (Waco, we sometimes asked too much of her.)

I told them I knew I applied for all the wrong reasons as soon as I read that line–that I wanted the two-year security, that I wanted to get out of Texas, and even maybe that I wanted it to at least sound like I was saving the world.

We were a little floundering together that night–one between seminary and a question mark, the other still waiting to hear on St. Andrews. We toasted to Plan Bs, some absurd, some not-so. We kept each other in mind.

Now, they’re both in the middle of being brilliant in their respective programs.

And I’m in the waiting place again.

I’m busy-making, two jobs and two classes and too much extroversion. When I’m still, the panic. The blank drawn at plan B. The shaky Thy will be done.

Sometimes in church I think about that still, I think maybe that is what we should be praying for, not just that God’s will be done, but that everything that is God’s everything that is His, everything that is Thy, will be done. Yours be done, I chant in my head. Yours yours yours. Everything that is Yours.

The irony that this, from Lauren Winner, floats across my head in this time, hits me later–it’s her school I’ve applied to, her book that even put it on my radar.

One year ago.

——————————

Annie Barnett writes a small but jam-packed thing that wrecks me:

In this present moment.

I am due to find out about my admission and funding for this graduate program at the end of February, possibly the second week of Lent. Soon, somewhat.

That’s my limited sight, for now. But really, it all is, isn’t it?

Now we see through a glass darkly…

Our professor reminds us again in a class on St. Thomas Aquinas and caritas that the difference in our sight and God’s, in our knowing and His, is not even just distance and time, but in manner and mode. We know through lists and steps and bits and pieces and even stories–discursion. But He knows in full one fell swoop, in a breath, by absorption, intuition–and even these comparisons are small heresies. 

Our sight is all limitation, on this side of things.

So I find myself in another Advent in the middle of Epiphany, and I am praying for the showing-forth of Christ, for ears to hear Him, for eyes to see Him, however deaf and blind I may be.

For even now, even in the fear, there are doves descending and water turned to wine.

I want to wait well. Pockets emptied of Plans A-Z.

I pray to be faithful even if disappointment, even if the we regret to inform you.

—————————

I read a prayer written by a woman centuries ago, and I know it is mine:

For I am His. O then take care of my Soul and Body, for both are thine. Conserve, increase, and nourish all the good purposes thou hast inspir’d into me, for they are also thine.

I am all thine, save me; my Understanding is thine, illuminate it; my Will is thine, govern it; my Memory is thine, fill it; my Life is thine, preserve it; my Friends are thine, bless them, and secure them all to thy self, for all is thine.

Amen.

Thine, Thine, Thine.

Yours Yours Yours.

Amen.

and the Lord was with joseph, with us still.

“Mom,” I begin with an almost-whine of childish inquiry, “why is Joseph your favorite?” It’s spring break, and I’ve been reading the story over again in bite-sized chunks by way of the lectionary. I know her answer; it’s one she’s told me since I was small, but I want to hear it again. Today, though, she’s a little distracted, and maybe caught a bit off-guard. It’s not like we’ve been talking felt-board Bible stories during this car ride. Her eyes have been on the road, while mine have counted churches.

So I’m not altogether surprised that it’s not any kind of a full answer, the way it would be in the Gilmore Girls/Grey’s Anatomy version of my life in which people drop inspiring, well-structured speeches every 20 minutes or so and always have the right thing to say mid-moment.

“Because he’s always obedient,” she says, matter-of-factly. My childhood self would have heard this as a pointed answer, and would have offered an eye roll at this yet-another attempt of hers to drill me with good graces and character quips.

“Mmm. He’s faithful, yes.” I read these things a little differently now.

“…Right.” She looks at me out of the corner of her eye. She hears the superior, Enduring Chill tone my voice takes on in these conversations, the tone we’ve talked about before. But in grace, she continues,  “He doesn’t lose hope, even though he doesn’t have the big picture.”

I remember something, a snatch of halted conversation between sobs from an outdoor bench on a mild spring night.

“Even though he doesn’t know the end of the story,” I quietly echo the memory.

——–

The past three years have felt like a dim version of a Joseph story for my family.

Something a bit like a betrayal chucked my mother out of a job, and the economic climate kept her there.

OK, maybe the analogy ends there (if there ever was one), because I’m pretty sure our story doesn’t come close to Joseph’s, and I always am inclined to say that money problems aren’t really real problems. I am sorry to tell you that I think there are worse darknesses, deeper wounds out there.

But I will tell you it hasn’t been easy.

There have been mornings that haven’t felt worth getting up for.

There have been questions and fears, after a long day of acting brave.

There have been all kinds of sacrifices, some we will live with for a while yet.

We have fiddled with our plates after a tense conversation at the dinner table about money and whispered to each other, I don’t see the good in this, knowing we don’t mean this bill or that, but all of it, the whole.

——

A Thursday afternoon in July, I’m driving down the middle of New Mexico in the middle of the afternoon. I go nuts for this big blue soul-baring sky– it’s the best part of the five hours between Santa Fe and Las Cruces, where my family has just relocated as an act of faith, trusting that my mother will get a teaching position.

Maybe this year, we said for the dozenth time.

On this stretch of I-25, it seems like you can see the distance from the East to the West, and a whole range of experience in between. Miles away, I see rain fall on thirsty earth, with the hot sun pounding on our car. I think of how Fr. Chuck  always prays one way or another for precipitation, in praise or petition.

We thank You for the rain,  I repeat words from a quite different locale, one smelling like old wood and old people.

Beside me, my grandmother scrambles to answer her iPhone, and I know it’s the phone call we’ve been waiting for all day.

Better than that, it turns out to be the phone call we’ve been waiting for for the past three years.

She has a job.

Mom has a job, and I don’t even know how to begin giving thanks and praise for this gift, this blessing, this grace.

I tell my grandmother in the car, watching the storm move across the landscape, it’s not just the money.

It’s the fact that it is rare to see someone so in her element as my mother is when she is teaching the magic of reading and writing. Call it vocation or gifting or whatever, but I call it positively electrifying.

My voice cracks as I say, that’s the best news.

She’ll be back.

——

I realize I guess we don’t know terribly much about the state of Joseph’s heart in some of the hardest parts of his story. He might have sung from the pit into which he was thrown like later disciples, but maybe his spirit failed him, as in so many psalms. In the Dreamworks rendition, he gardens a tree when he’s in prison. Sure, OK.

But do we know “the Lord was with him,” he walks righteously, he is faithful to use the gift God has given him (even when it hasn’t worked out so well in the past), and he is able to look back at the end of the story ridden with pain, waiting, and betrayal, and call it good.

I wish I could tell you we have been faithful every step of the way. I wish I could tell you we sang, we planted trees. I wish I could tell you that in the looking back, even from more solid ground, I can call it all good.

I think we are still learning what we have learned. I think there is still a lot of hurt to heal, a lot of room to grow in grace. I don’t know if I’ve made the same room in my heart for a Joseph kind of reconciliation, for the kind of embrace with the past he gives his brothers in the end.

But I want to make this very clear: The Lord was with us. 

Maybe I could have saved you a lot of reading by just linking to The Footprints Poem, but this is the story I have to tell. It is certainly by grace my mother got a job after a lot of waiting, and I can certainly say, “Thank the Lord, He is good.” Blessing, blessing, blessing.

In certain circles, or maybe just ones I find myself in, we are quick to point to the provision we have been waiting for, the well-timed whatever, and call it “a God thing,” or a “divine appointment,” so on. And I think it is, they are. Redemption, healing, breakthrough: certainly these we can call the works of His hand. The opposite, the property of the fallenness of the universe, the song of creation turned off-key, the glass we see through darkly.

But I wonder if by flippantly calling one thing God’s and not the other, we miss how He is working, moving, shaping even in the middle. We miss the grace right smack dab in the center of the mess. We skim past the phrase, “and the Lord was with Joseph,” to get to the end–we miss the gift of His presence. We think we know where He was and wasn’t.

And I scan the rest of that thirsty earth, and think what of the drought? Surely He is just as good when the rain doesn’t fall. Surely He is just as deserving of our thanks and praise. Surely no field is wholly fallow. 

—–

September, I call her early one morning before both of us have to work, just because. I miss the two-hour drive it used to be before they left. I cradle the phone against my shoulder deciding which of the dresses in the hamper is the least offensive to wear again, she is doing early-morning banter with my teenage sister. I ask her how school is going, the students, the adjusting.

Between get your lunch and your hair is fine, she tells me she’s just so tired. I nod, though she cannot see. Jumping back into a new, old life is taxing. Our Dallas house still hasn’t sold, my family is learning how to live on top of each other. And her class has a high number of at-risk and special needs students, most of whom need the free lunch. No breezy easing back in. Paychecks don’t transform everything– transition is still transition, the grind still the grind.

“But you know,” she tells me, “Yesterday, one of my girls looked at me at the end of the day and was just so amazed that school was already over.” I smile, unsurprised. My mother has always been known as one of the most engaging teachers. Her kids work hard, but they’re tricked into loving it. Magic, again. Grace.

“Sounds like you’re doing something right then, huh?”

“I guess so.” Then, away from the receiver, “I’m talking to your sister.” I hear Isabella’s early morning stress through the wire. I stifle a laugh, remembering a different rhythm of life, one that seems very far away.

We hang up, and I’m just praying thanks and asking, all at once.

It’s a rainy day in Waco. The Lord was with us. He is with us still.

water, saints, and kayaks.

Chuck talks to me about water as I look over his shoulder at a leaning drawing of Jesus laughing, a drawing I’ll admit I don’t really like all that much.

He tells me about a life of faithfulness that he calls the deep part of the river, as opposed to the whitewater, the fray, the froth on the edges that falls as quickly as it rises.

This deep, this middle? It is slower. It is less exciting, and often less emotional than the “spiritual highs” we were instructed to cling to at the end of a week at church camp, the ones we still think we should be riding even now.

It is not the stuff we like to write about, and especially not talk about–the humdrum, the rhythms that some days seem lifeless, the spaces between each extraordinary revelation, the labors of love instead of the throes.

But it is the strongest part, he says, It is the current–what moves everything else along. 

The giant fish plaqued on his wall tells me he knows something about rivers, and the grace in his eyes tells me he knows something about faith. Well, maybe the priest’s collar does that, too. I pay attention.

Saints get this, he says, and they have for a long time. He lists a few, and I nod, eyes wide, when he names Teresa of Avila. I have been reading her. It is the deep part of the river that carries us through what she would call “spiritual dryness,” which everyone, everyone, experiences from time to time. I think that is maybe why I like her so much.

She, whom we call saint, tells us that the life of faith, prayer in particular, is hard work. It is mostly toting water back and forth from the well, building aqueducts rather than drinking from natural springs. After a while, the distance to the well feels shorter, and some days you might find a natural fountain of fresh water at your feet. But often, even for mystics, this is not the case.

Instead, much of our time is spent slowly carving a small trench from well to doorstep by foot, much like the literal path that scientists tell us new habits etch in our brains.

____________

I’m on a kayak midday, months later, with these wet images ricocheting around my head, as I take a break from paddling, Texas sun blazing.

I love Teresa, I think, but she is one chica with mixed metaphors. And I’m not helping much with this river business.

But it is the river I’m on that made me think of Chuck, then Teresa.  It is the fact that I am leaning back in my little boat, moved only by that current, thinking of the One who forms the water in the first place.

Suddenly I realize we’ve been out in the sun for hours now. I’m really, really thirsty, and I decide to announce this, loudly, to anyone who will listen.





Sometimes you find that you have essentially written the same post twice.

Ok, I don’t actually know if that is normal, but that is basically what happened to me today.

Pardon my repetition, but check out this post from March. Perhaps in the cracks between the overlap of scatterbrained prose, you’ll find something new. 

a phone call, the cupcakes, & something about grace.

She answers the phone as I’m clumsily pulling out the muffin tin from the oven. I’m not very good at this anyway, and my injured hand makes my movements even more awkward than usual. So, it takes me a moment to discover the safe way of juggling phone, tin, and mitt as I’m standing in my giraffe-print swimsuit in a tiny kitchen with zero counter space, and I’ve forgotten why I’ve called my mother to begin with.

“Oh! Right. So I’m making the cupcake version of the “Best Ever Chocolate Cake” from that one cookbook, Mom.” [Apparently, other people refer to it as “Texas Sheet Cake,” but I grew up simply calling it my birthday cake, because that is when I requested it, and that is when my mother conceded to making anything with that much butter and that much confectioner’s sugar.]

“Anyway,” I begin as I try to swallow my missing her, “I just realized that you’re not here to drink the rest of the buttermilk.”

I hate buttermilk. She knows this. She tells me to make homemade ranch dressing, because “that’s how they used to make it, you know,” and then hands the phone to my grandmother as she handles a potato salad crisis. It’s Independence Day, after all. I explain the buttermilk thing to my grandmother, who advises me to make homemade ranch dressing, because,

“…that’s how they used to make it, I know,” I laugh. I spread the rich, nutty mixture atop each cupcake as we talk about the party they’re throwing and our family’s inability to keep anything just red, white, and blue. We talk church and desert, friends and blessing. Eventually, the frosting sets, and they have guests to greet.

I climb the stairs to my bedroom, triumphant with my cupcake and glass of milk, not caring much if crumbs get in the bed as I eat there. What I am not so prepared for is the total sensory rush of the past, of feeling so much like a child as I take the first bite. It’s a recipe that I’ve only made myself once before and I am suddenly alone and very small and lost.

And I’m almost instantly angry.

I’m furious that this is the dozenth time this week that I have felt this way, that it’s cupcakes and bill paying and can openers and grocery shopping and mail keys and gas caps that make me want to scream whatamIdoing and hope to heaven that I’m in the right place. I’m mad that I just cannot seem to cope with the change of the past few months, that I am just not yet fully at peace with the diaspora of my friends and family.

Why can’t I get over all this? I say into my pillow, half-eaten cupcake now abandoned on the nightstand.

And I feel foolish for wanting to lay this before Him, for somehow thinking I can align my passing angst with the psalmist’s “deliver me, O God.” I turned away from the image of a personalized Jesus, right? From a Holy Spirit who only consoled and never corrected, from a Father whose love always looked like what I wanted.

And I have fallen into a tradition of faith (at least for now) that beautifully pushes me out of the way—ordered worship in pursuit of ordered love. No room for me and all my fickleness.

Despite my protests He said, in grace, as I lie there with batter and frosting and powdered sugar all over me—yes, even here, even now.

As in, even here, He meets me, even now, He knows. Yes, He is Other, beyond. But He is also “closer than my skin” (a lyric I will always love). Both center and circumference, and everywhere in-between.

I wonder if this is something I will ever stop learning. Sometimes it is easier to remember in instants when the veil is very thin between here and glory, when He is known in raindrops, in chords, in hue.

“The Divine in the mundane,” we can say. Somehow more near in all that Beauty.

But what about the mundane of the mundane? If He is God of the small moments, then surely it must be all the moments. Even the parts that do not feel like gift, the frustrations and the melancholy, the somewhat silly parts that I don’t want to call sacramental. The parts that make me angry at myself.

My struggle now is admitting them enough to meet Him there. To sigh that yes, these little things are my undoing, to hold them up to the Light and see what can be done.

And maybe that is where I will start to be remade, again and again, in Grace.