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.

twenty-twelve debrief: part three.

The third installment of a debriefing of this past year. You can read part one here and part two here. I mean, really. I know this is getting long. 

It was a very Waco summer.

[Ok, before that, I had to pack up my whole life–dorm room and Dallas room–and move back down to Waco, bumming around with my now-roommate until we found an apartment. In the blazing Texas heat.]

I worked in the same office that started my college career–proselytizing for a program in the Honors College (with the number of the Great Texts department chair in my back pocket all the while.) Alright, other people call it recruitment.  My office-mate and longtime bud Maggie and I worked long hours, decided margarita happy hour was a definite benefit of postgrad life, and listened to One Direction on the sly when our bosses weren’t listening. Yeah. The freedom was intoxicating. We were so adult.

[Also maybe I wasn’t trying to think of the fact that Erica was in France for a month, and that a cluster of other good friends were in Houston.]

I turned 22 on the 19th of June. My roommate asked me what I was looking forward to in my twenty-second year, and I couldn’t give her an answer.

But that same week contained the sudden upswing highlight of the summer: my dear wonderful friend Jenni got married to her pyromaniac partner-in-crime.  [We are a blind Facebook friendship success story, ya’ll.] She made the most lovely bride. I alternated between squealing (pretty sure that’s why I was in the wedding party) and crying. It was a beautiful beginning to witness.

The next day, I got a midmorning call, a tragic report that one of my favorite professors died far too young. I carried the grief around.

In July, my job slowed down, my parents finally moved to New Mexico. I started to feel a little lost, a little lonely, a little bit unsure. Scrambling for Grace that was there all along.

Erica came back (I told her Duke Divinity was a thought. She said that sounded about right.) I got to see my family in NM (and say goodbye all over again.) Not one, but two jobs for the rest of the school year landed in my lap, right after I found out my mom finally got a job after a three-year forced hiatus. I took lots of lovely weekend trips. Freedom. Adulthood.

Jerry got into the MBA program at Baylor–he would be staying in Waco after all. I cried.

I said goodbye to Preston the day before he jumped oceans. I cried.

Waco was flooded with students all over again, and I saw shadows of my student self, my student life walking around beside me as I ran errands for my campus job and punched numbers at that favorite coffeeshop that practically defined my college experience.

As I kept telling people, I was circling the same places but with a different function.

And then I think one day I looked around and realized everything was alright. Somehow, He kept me afloat even when I felt floundering, thrashing about in all my panic and irrational darkness. Somehow, I found myself surrounded by the most amazing Waco circle, even amidst all the change. I woke up and went to work every day and didn’t fall apart (with no small thanks to that circle. and a lot of grace.)

I audited a Dante class (as anyone who pays attention to anything I do online certainly knows.) We talked theology and poetry and somehow Duke Divinity kept pounding in my ears. (It had been a long time coming.) A few choice divinely appointed coffeeshop conversations and a whirlwind trip to North Carolina later, it felt right. And I’m running with it. (I’ll let you know in February, OK?)

November happened, and then December happened. But you already knew that.

I know it sounds like I spent most of the year crying in my yoga pants, but would you believe me if I said I look back over 2012 quite fondly? That despite all the discomfort and growing pains…I’ve grown? It was the best year on the books bar none for friendships (like I said, I’ve already gushed about some of them here and here. Don’t make me get weepy. Again.) I moved off-campus, cooked a few meals, learned what a paycheck feels like. (And what bills feel like.) I have a glimmer of a next step, and maybe even the trust to make it even if it falls through.

For I am His. And He is Good. And that alone is worth celebrating.

Cheers.

Happy 2013, friends!

Thanks for bearing with me through way more words than I bargained for.

What are you anticipating in the new year? Drop a line in the comments!

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?

absorption.

It’s Saturday and raining–the first true Sabbath I’ve had for a while. With a few jobs, a few friends, and a few classes I’ve picked up, It’s been more than  little difficult to rest, to just be still.

[I feel like this is something we are always saying these days, but it might be a while before it stops being true, before our desperation explodes.]

True, the weekend before I had not been working. I visited my dear, longtime friend Alia in her tiny blue cave-house on the south side of Dallas within walking distance of fascinating people and vegan diners. This is indeed a kind of soul rest. We sprawled like cats across the periwinkle duvet, drinking in each other’s stories, bursting with them, content to listen, to ebb and flow.  We have both changed so much over the years, and even in some important ways. But this? It stays the same. It is easy. And I am always so pleased to step into her life in the briefest of moments, whether it is trading English and Farsi curse words with her family or talking late into the night with her ragtag tribe of troubadours, artists, and 9-to-5-ers.

[On Sunday I watch her fry the eggs. I, charged with toast, load my knife with butter and marvel at the fact that I have been given close friends who make verbs out of words like home and host and harbour and haven, with a practiced ease.]

But this weekend takes on a peace in a different hue. I have cloistered away from retweets and comments and mentions, and it feels just right. I’m practicing absorption. I read Dante’s Purgatorio slowly, word by word, note by note, swallowing them rich like chocolate. I’m not sure how much time goes by. The Commedia is about a journey–arguably our own–and I laugh to think of how we’ve taken that word and run with it. Journey. I sympathize with Dante’s distraction along the way, and catch my breath when I read certain lines:

And I, who understood what he intended,

raised my tear-stained cheeks

and he restored the color

Hell had obscured in me.

He speaks in terms of color, of song, of walking, and these are things I understand.

[And Cato’s chastening at their pause to listen to the lesser song? This was enough to cut to the quick, but then professor told us that it was one of Dante’s own poems, that here was a reflected rebuke about loving his own words. Mercy, I sigh.]

I remember my cappuccino beside me and the Rilke in my bag. I’m reading his letters.

Therefore, dear sir, love your solitude and bear with sweet-sounding lamentation the suffering it causes you.

This is not the kind of thing I grew up with. Maybe I once thought that Jesus came so we wouldn’t hurt any more. Maybe instead He came because we hurt.

[Later, I will cry through this poem of Rilke’s. I realize that I want the “she” to be me.]

I call Alia [one of a small band that has been trying to get me to read him for years], pacing in the rain, running my mouth about Rilke and his loneliness, how sometimes he makes it sound like we are utterly alone at the root of it all. This worries me for me, but also for him. I want to know if he ever had a true friend in this life. She’s not sure. I tell her something I read after my professor’s memorial service, something she once wrote about loneliness as analogous to fasting, when you lean into it. You find your truest Dependency.  You are without for a while to see more clearly Whom you always have, Who always has you. See what the loneliness has for you, Lauren Winner wrote.

[I ask, am I lonely? Is that the word for it?]

I’m playing the new Mumford album [along with everyone else].

Though I may speak some tongue of old
Or even spit out some holy word
I have no strength from which to speak
When you sit me down, and see I’m weak

We will run and scream
You will dance with me
They’ll fulfill our dreams and we’ll be free

And we will be who we are
And they’ll heal our scars
Sadness will be far away…

Do not let my fickle flesh go to waste
As it keeps my heart and soul in its place
And I will love with urgency but not with haste

 

[I wonder, softly, why it seems easier to pray with Dante, Rilke, and Marcus Mumford these days.]

The rain is loud enough to allow a beating heart and nothing more, to make a quiet soul.

a dark sunday.

Actually, lights streams through the blinds to wake me up on Sunday morning with an inordinately strong need for cinnamon rolls, several hours before I have to be anywhere or do anything.

Church, in other words.

It takes me a bit of time to do something about it. Instead I scan the wall opposite, the one filled with pictures of my tribe, my places, my colors. Yesterday I added two angels to the throng: each plaqued, one Italian, one Spanish, both old. Finally I settle on watching the seconds tic until I can’t stand it anymore, as per my morning habit of late, stubbornly in place of prayer.

For days, I have counted tics more than I have counted graces, letting the tiny sound replace the silence, instead of true rest, true quiet, true stillness.

So today I continue to watch and listen to the clock only, until the cinnamon bun thing is stronger than the bed’s magnetism. Somehow, I propel myself all the way to the grocery.

My cashier tells me her teenage daughter is pregnant. I listen, she tells me the hypocrisy is the lowest blow. She’s not sure how they’ll move on.

I tell her I’m sorry, that she’ll be in my prayers this morning. It’s quick, just as she’s saying, “It’ll all turn out alright.”

I’m at my car before I realize I might’ve said a true thing.

As I’m icing the pastries, I think of the old practice of fasting before receiving Eucharist that I fell into without knowing it several months ago. The idea is that the small fast reminds us for Whom we are truly hungry.

I lick my fingers and polish off two warm, overdone rolls before getting dressed.

——-

Slipping into the fifth row from the back at St. Paul’s, I juggle with the hymnal to jump in on the last line of the first song. I’m late, the cross has passed. We begin the Gloria, and I notice the mascara stain on the tips of my fingers. Somehow, I knew, looking into the mirror half an hour ago, that it wouldn’t be worth it. And I was right–the eye makeup didn’t make the car ride.

It’s been a low week.

But I think one nice thing about an Episcopal church is that you don’t have to be decent, not really, ’til halfway through the service. You can afford to be a total mess through the songs, the scripture readings, and even the sermon. It’s a long way to the Passing of the Peace. And anyway, if I lost it during all that peace-passing? Here, I think it would probably  be alright.

And that’s good, I guess, because I choke through the psalm–

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God…

Amma Jo happens to address the psalm reading at length during her sermon. She talks about Kingdom in terms of home–the one we wait for, the one we cultivate now, the table we lay with Christ.

She tells us in her endearing audiobook lilt,

“The irony of a life with God is that home is not for us a static place. Rather our home is a journey–the psalmist calls it ‘the pilgrim’s way’…Our home is a walk that will take us through desolate valleys and up mountains. But always, God, Who is our Home, will walk that way with us.”

The peace of this waits to wash over me until Jo says nearly the same thing when she prays over the parish’s children starting school:

May they know that wherever they journey is never far from You.

Oddly, these two small moments address the little heresy that crept into my head in the form of a question earlier in the week, on another tic-counting, bed-staying morning:

Is it the same God? The same One Who met me in the glorious desert as on the staircase of the English building, as on that creaking, coffee-stained back porch? Who sat at the foot of my bed that morning?

Is He the same God? My childish heart whispered to the turquoise clock.

In church, I lift my eyes up to the stained glass at the altar. I gasp small, realizing for the first time ever that the descending dove set in a cross with arms of equal length almost exactly mirrors the pendant given to me when I was baptized years ago. The one I just found again in my dresser drawer, the one I’ve thumbed over a fifty times this week. I can’t breathe for the overlap.

Remember your baptism.

I realize the symbol is old, and not altogether rare. [I mean, I have a wallful of crosses with doves in the middle, collected over the years–a story for another time.]

But I needed the reminder–the reminders–that He completes the circle always, that He is the same God who sits at the foot of my bed even when I have trouble leaving it, that He really is the one for Whom I hunger on the journey, the journey Home.

i am tired of saying

“I don’t know.”

But I am not even so tired of the uncertainty.

I am more scared of my mouth’s shape

when I say those three words

[what a friend once called my perennial state],

and I think they hang ugly, always about to fall.

If it was just the two of us, plus a select few,

maybe it would be simpler. [Or so I say].

I would be more at ease with this cloud

of unknowing, this platform between trains.

[Maybe I would even stop saying between,

and just call it life.] Instead I reduce, reuse, repeat

the same old phrases, with that same old shrug.

All at once, I do not want my throwaway answer

to be the end of it–there is more to say–but then

I am tired of saying “I don’t know.” So maybe,

smiling, I will just say nothing, at least for now.

————————

today’s string of words is part of the life: unmasked series, in which bloggers have a chance to be [more?] honest in their writing.

Click through to see what other people are sharing.

Life: Unmasked

color, cacophony, communion.

My colors are loud today.

At least, they seem so in the quiet of the chapel bathed in neutrals. In here, there is no stained glass to add to the banter, to wash everyone else in jewel tones, too.

I’ve already wiped off my coral lipstick as I made my way through the church. It’s the kind thing to do with a shared Cup, I think. But I cannot subdue the turquoise shoes, the canary clutch wallet. And then there’s the siren of a neon-orange manicure that I cannot hide as I pass the peace, or cup one palm in the other, waiting for bread.

And to think, I was just giving eucharisteo thanks for all those tones and shades.

Now, here, they are blaring. And I am being arrogantly self-conscious about it, but it feels like a sign of something else. I know I should instead drink in the grace in Amma Jo’s eyes as she meets mine, beginning in perfect meter, “the Body of Christ…” I know I should instead soak in our peace-passing as it become onomatopoeic, our soft “c’s” brushing against each other’s faces and echoing in this little place.

But I am tired of feeling loud and new and out of rhythm here. I want to skip all the steps of learning how to be in a place and with a people, how to “do” church. I am not willing to see the little things as they come as beginnings. I want the house to be built, but I do not want to build it. And mostly, I do not want to admit the fear.

I am impatient.

And here, at this midweek service, I am waiting for Eucharist to not only be communion with Him in mystery and beauty, but also an enactment of Faith and Life in community, unabstracted. I want to know names and stories, to know for whom this Body breaks, for whom this Blood pours out.

And really,  if I’m honest, I’m the one who wants to be known—well, at least by a different name than the girl with coral lipstick on the back of her hand. 

————

————

two links about communion that are worth clicking:

* Holly Ordway’s wonderful podcast, weaving in truth and beauty of her own: “The Gift of Love: the Eucharist in Poetry by Malcolm Guite and George Herbert.”

and

* “Bread and Wine” by Josh Garrels, new to me. 

Life: Unmasked