fragments, two.

Again I bring you a fragment found, this time, in the back of a book. I remembered it because of a tweet, actually. I remember now everything about writing it– low belly orange sun, whitewashed campus lawn furniture printing the back of my thighs. A few hours later, I would be sitting almost right in a fire, wine glass tilted in unsure hand, spectacular friendships kindling prophetic. That memory alone is a forgotten snapshot worth mentioning.

——————————-

I wouldn’t say we are a “broken family.”

“Cracked” is more like it–like we are that section [of wall] above a door in a house with a poor, dry, Texas foundation, fissure stretching from frame to ceiling, widening on days when the air is thick enough to cut, but so small and delicate on others that you can barely see it at all.

It’s just another piece of wall.

————————–

Image

I think I got the humidity thing reversed. Wouldn’t the crack get bigger the drier it was? Science, guys.

twenty-twelve debrief: part one.

 debrief (v).

to comb over the events within a given amount of time (i.e. a day, a year, a singular social event.) to locate the highlights, the dark moments, the shoulda-woulda-couldas, the parts that are already a part of what is unmistakably you. distinct from a crippling nostalgia. to cup the past in your hands and breathe. in. everything. [a term usually used by Erica and me; (among other primarily female counterparts? theory untested)]

This year started as the last one ended–with extremely strong painkillers, prescribed for tooth pain that started Christmas Eve.

Sexy, huh?

I only mention it because the work I had done on my teeth spanning the next four months or so required my driving from Waco to Dallas every other weekend, meaning that I spent more time at home my last semester of college than any other. With my family now (and probably forever) living another time zone away, I’m glad I got some good weekends in with my family, especially during some of our most uncertain months as a family.

[One such weekend, I devoured Lauren Winner’s Still on iBooks as soon as it was released, in a half-Novocained stupor. I fangirled all over her google search, and found out she had just been appointed as a professor at Duke Divinity School.  I spent hours on their website, but was too drugged or too much in denial to give credence to anything more than a passing curiosity. ]

Sometime in January, I was not selected to join the Teach for America crew. [You get news like this via email these days, so you’re stuck wherever you are receiving life-altering pieces of information.] I was in public, but alone. Upon reading the first line of “we’re sorry, but…” I realized that I hadn’t applied with the purest of intentions. I do have a passion for the types of communities TFA serves. I do think I would do well in them. (And have.) But the two-year security blanket of the program and the prospect of picking up and leaving for an adventure muffled out everything else that told me this wasn’t it. With the email staring back at me, and my phone buzzing with consolatory text messages, I breathed a feeble, panicked thanks. And hoped that something would happen to get me out of Waco. 

I spent most of my last semester in yoga pants. As soon as I try to defend myself by citing my yoga class, I’ll admit to you that it was a once-a-week audit. But then, Preston and I decided to take a few other easy classes to make this last semester ohso easy, too. Ha. Haha. Hahahaha. Ceramics I almost kicked our non-art-major butts with hours out-of-class coiling, and maybe there was a 11 pm run to the library to practice knot-tying for Backpacking and Camping during the most stressful week of the semester. What. But I think in making we learned about our Maker, and some days the arm-waving treks across campus and the obnoxiously loud discussions of saints and liturgy flecked with clay are the things I absolutely miss the most about this slice of my past life.

[OK. And impromptu taco runs. And Wednesday wine at twilight and midnight grocery trips for bread with the guys.  There were also the hard nights: drives into the darkness and sad margarita toasts and angry orders of chips and salsa. We each took turns with one another, really. I oddly miss these, too. The strange mosaic.]

And then there was Great Texts capstone class. Nothing brought our weird little group of majors closer to tears or to laughter (or together) quicker than Brooks 170 at 9:30 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Just imagine a tiny group of smart-asses at the end of their academic rope, paired with the most infuriatingly even-tempered, pastoral professor with a penchant for correcting our sloppy word choice and logical failures. Yup. But sometimes there were doughnuts, always there was coffee and a lot of camaraderie and grace. These things make a difference. I think that small room and small group of people will be with me always. I’m not sure I can do it justice.

[I still wore yoga pants on those days. With no excuse. Senioritis, yes. Semester-long existential crisis? Also yes.]

And then there was that one day you might already know about. A back-porch intimation that I was to stay in Waco for the next year. It was something of an answer, yes, but I kept wearing yoga pants 24/7. Even to a job interview.

[I needed intervention.]

Preston found out he got into St. Andrews an ocean away. I cried.

Erica decided to stay in Waco longer, too. I cried.

I kept counting the staying friends and the leaving friends. More irrational tears.

More days without real pants.

To be continued. Read part two here.

Depressing stuff, huh? I promise it wasn’t as dark as all that. I’ll fill in more later, but as this recap is getting longer than I expected, this is as good a place to stop as any. 

Also, do you use the word ‘debrief’ as I have ‘defined’ it above?

what i’m into, December.

OK, so I only did the last what I’m into hosted by the great Leigh Kramer a few posts ago–December’s been a bit bare around here. But I couldn’t pass up a chance to share the happenings and loves from this month: it’s been pretty full!

music:

  • a new song from David Ramirez. He breezes through Waco every once in a while, and I love getting to see him live. 
  • I pretty much just add on to old playlists as a listening habit. But here are the songs I added to last month’s playlist. Enjoy. 

books:

  • still working on Acedia & Me. I find that I get my best reading done on planes…and I haven’t done as much traveling as last month. Still loving it, though!
  • I love a good YA. My bedtime read has been The Thief  by Megan Whalen Turner on my iPad. Apparently it’s part of a series, under a slightly different name. I like Turner’s prose a lot, as well as her charming boy-protagonist.

blogposts:

TV:

  • my only addition from last month is Monarchy with David Starkey. Because this is the kind of thing we watch in the post-gift-opening haze. 
  • [but OMG 30Rock was ON FIRE THIS MONTH.]
  • and ok I’ll admit to a Kyle XY ep. Fine.
  • and I’ll also admit that I’ve stopped watching New Girl religiously. I’m just kinda over it.

things to wear:

  •  this month’s lipstick: Revlon ColorStay Overtime in Nonstop Cherry. I mean. This is serious. stuff. They’re not kidding when they say 16 hours. So make sure you want it on for at least that long!
  • I’ve got this freaking amazing chunky purple sweater-cardigan-thingy that I wear all the time. It’s turning into something of a security blanket.
  • …when I’m not wearing my chambray.
  • and I mean, scarves again. My sister gave me one like this for Christmas, and I’m obsessed.

moments:

  • lovely times with the Epsicopal Student Center in Waco, including the start of Advent party. I’m not technically a student, but they’ve accepted me anyway!
  • The Croft Gallery’s show displaying all the artists who rent studio space there, including my lovely and good friend Erica Wickett. She’s a big deal, guys.
  • a number of get-together’s at Lula Jane’s. Fellow lady-barista dates, longtime friends, new priests, quick catchups… it has been a month full of good conversations and yummy things to eat. 

    knitting with Mags. love.

  • one of my favorite humans ever came to visit Waco a few weeks ago: the indescribable Blake Trimble. He is probably the least likely person to read this post, but there’s a good chance you already know him. No? I’m surprised. He makes friends and creates a ridiculous amount of joy wherever he goes–good for a laugh and a great conversation, guaranteed. If I could just find a way to make him stay in Bear Country…
  • The Common Grounds staff Christmas party. There was much dancing and fancying to be had. And time for my soon-to-be-vacating-the-country friend Katherine to take this favorite picture of Erica and me:

photo cred: Katherine Walker. [Don’t go to France.]

  • got to see Jenni graduate! Wedding, graduation… 2012 has been a big year for this girl, and I’m glad I was there for both!

Erica and Jenni on one of our lunches. I have great friends.

  • I had the chance to catch up with my fearless leaders from my days as a Community Leader (or RA, pick your poison) in the freshman girls’ hall, North Russell. Lisa, Leslie, and Jamie played a huge part in my life as a college student, and I hope to hang onto them as friends for a good while longer.
  • scheming scheming scheming super-secret exciting things.
  • And hey, did you know Preston’s back on this continent? Like, not an ocean away?
  • my post entitled ‘to the girl who wants a boy for Christmas‘ was my most-read post ever. [go figure.]  I loved getting to hear from people who read, and talk about it with people in real life, too.
  • in case you didn’t know, my mom is serving in her first teaching position since 2009. I was able to come to New Mexico early to join her third-grade Christmas party. I wept for a number of reasons that day. There was the grief of being in an elementary school so soon after Sandy Hook; there was the incredible joy of watching my mother truly in her element, with a ragtag classfull of hilarious kids who clearly adore her. All day pondering gift given, gift lived. It’s a day I will remember for a long time.

    She’s just magic, ya’ll.

  • oh, you know, Christmas. My grandmother’s cousin and her family came to visit from California, and there was much laughter and loud and food to be had. This is a part of the family I have only really come to know in recent years, and I’ve treasured every moment with them. And did you know we routinely have four Christmas trees? And, um, 200+  Nativities/Creches from all over the world…displayed year round? yup. That’s us. Perhaps my favorite Christmas tradition is a strong one in New Mexico: Luminarias. The idea is that you light candles in simple brown sacks weighted  with sand to light the way of the traveling Holy Family on Christmas eve, to beckon the Christchild into your home, your life.

    The pictures are never much. In person, with no other lights but the stars, it’s breathtaking.

  • Les Miserables. Just go see it. Right now.
  • making this cranberry-orange-pecan coffee cake from Joy the Baker. I mean.
  • And TODAY my longtime friend Alia turns a whopping 23…AND is zipping over to NM for a visit! Let the wild rumpus start!

what I wish I was into:

  • actually finishing this Duke Divinity application. As you can see, December has been quite full, even my work schedule aside.
  • actually slowing down enough for Advent.
  • actually knowing how to observe the 12 days of Christmas.
  • eating like, veggies. Don’t get me wrong, I love all this New Mexican cuisine [pass the tamales!] but my body is tired of it.
  • actually finishing any book lately.
  • pulling myself away from twitter.
  • keeping my crass, snooty mouth shut. when it needs to be.

what were you into this December? No, really. Tell me in the comments. Or link a post of your own!

 

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

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.

life, unmasked: i am the older brother.

Last Thursday, I linked up with Sarah Bessey’s brilliant synchroblog, and wrote about what is saving my life right now. Or right then, rather. That week, it was New Mexico–everything from the earth to the sky and back again.

You know what else saved my life that week, later that very day?

My mom got a job. 

She’s been waiting, my family has been waiting, a cloud of beautiful witnesses we have filled our lives with has been waiting for three years.

[And here’s a little more about that story, if you’re interested.]

But can I tell you something else first?

Even with all the blessing, even with the open hand that has been this week, I have been the other brother.

You know the guy I mean– the older one in the parable, the one who cannot share in the joy when grace is extended to his prodigal sibling.

One of my favorite paintings. Rembrandt captures the moment of reconciliation between the prodigal son and his father, but also chooses to include the brother (on the right) in this particular scene. Notice the elder’s placement in the frame, his posture, his face.

There is a feast, a fatted calf, but the older brother cannot bring himself to come to the table. It is a grace too extravagant, it is just too much.

He doesn’t deserve it, the older one silently muses, positioning himself on a higher plane, as he imagines himself superior. He cannot bridge that space.

And that has been me this week, in more ways than one.

I have looked on the triumphs of others and begrudged, I have looked on these my own extravagant graces and named them burdens. 

I have chosen cynicism and unforgiveness.

I have clenched my grip on possessions this week, like a toddler yelling mine.

I have conveniently forgotten that I don’t deserve it, and none of it is really mine to hold.

I have not looked on with joy, and so I robbed my own.

And sure, these things are both the property of my fallenness and the condition of the broken world on any given day. The particular ugliness of my heart isn’t all that special.

But what of the long-awaited blessing, the miracle we began with, the grace of it all, so imminent?

It is all that darkness curled up with that much light that makes it hard to breathe.

Life: Unmasked

the land of enchantment, saving me.

Today I am joining the synchroblog over at Sarah Bessey’s (one of my favorite writers). So I share with you some unedited thoughts on New Mexico, and how it is saving my life right now. (Forgive typos and the rest, I’m on the fly today.)

This sky of azure.

Oh, that sky. The sky that seems painted close enough to touch one moment, then seems utterly unknowable, uncontainable the next. Like, how does it even belong here?

It taught me the same thing about God before I even knew it.

I miss it when I’m gone, like coastal people miss the ocean. I ache for that expanse. And when I’m here, I’m reminded why it’s my oldest thought-picture when I hear the word “glory,” and when Psalm 19 comes up in the lectionary.

And it’s saving me because I feel like I can pray a little more honestly here, and it feels like the peace in that little chapel at St. Paul’s. When I see how wide it is, my heart wants to crack open my chest from the inside out and be wide and open, too.

——–

And then there’s the turquoise. Everywhere.

It’s painted doorways, it’s the centennial license plate, it’s the murals and the dishes and the shoes and dresses and stones pressed into silver. (Jewelry I have rebelliously chosen to wear before I turn into a vieja.)

It’s another piece of glory, but on a selfish note, it is nice to wear turquoise and a swath of other colors and not be the brightest spot in the room. And I promise I’m not that self conscious about it all the time, but every once in a while, it’s nice to feel a little more in step with everyone else’s drummer.

———

And my family, whom New Mexico drew back like a magnet.

They are saving my life and driving me crazy. As it should be. Maybe when I am one hundred years old, I will write exactly how weird we are and all of our functional dysfunction, but for now I will tell you that they are all mine and they were the ones to teach me about unconditional love and sacrifice.

They are loud and hilarious and dramatic and generous and inappropriate and kind.

They sit across from me with their coffee cups and Mexican housedresses and cry when I tell them what’s broken my heart recently. They listen to me babble incoherently about my best friends (who are saving my life all the time), and ask me every question I hadn’t thought of. They laugh at my anecdotes and press a hand to heart when I’m done, saying softly, “I’m so glad you have them.”

——–

And then there is right now, with my gluten-free muffin and cup of coffee, framed against another turquoise wall, marigolds stark against those big blue heavens, patchouli and piñon always in the air.

This is saving my life right now.

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.