when fake plato is right.

Let’s have some real talk for a minute.

Contrary to Pinterest and the rest of the web, Plato did not say the above quote.

[I’m not positive he ever would, actually. But then, I’m willing to be corrected. Additionally, I am often rolling my eyes at the myriad misplaced bylines that make their way through this paradoxically teeming void we call the internet.]

However, I think pseudo-Plato might have some kind of a point. Let me explain in a very roundabout way.

I have found myself on the other side of my former life in the past few weeks.

I received my undergraduate diploma back in May, but was graced with employment in the heart of my alma mater, in a building that harbors a number of complex memories spanning four years. Now, the “syllabus shock” of the past is translated to an image of me in front of a machine smarter than I am, cursing at misplaced staples and sneaking a glance at the book list on the third page of a syllabus I could have been handed in a quite different context. I am snatching awkward first-day-of-class conversation bits as I pass down the hall to hang another poster, chest pinching as I name another weird thing I miss.

Even stranger, as of this week, I have moved behind the bar at my favorite coffeeshop (and second home). I had to pause for a moment as I realized the drink with my name on it was also in my handwriting. I’m cracking jokes, taking names (literally), and feeling displaced in spheres I have occupied for quite a while.

I’m learning how to be in the same places all over again.

But at the same time, to animate a beaten-down cliché, I’m learning how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

[Or in my case, poorly-chosen ballet flats. Standing in those guys for longer than half an hour does a number on basically my whole body.)

I am learning that my barista might have come close to a nervous breakdown racing from one job to this (in theory of course), and my extra twenty seconds of patience and the loving lilt in my voice may be enough grace to feed on for a while.

I am realizing that those who handle my little errands and tasks might be smarter than I think, that perhaps they too, might be people with expensive pieces of paper collecting dust somewhere. Or not. But they might just be worth something anyway, my time and thanks at least.

So with aching feet and a wondering heart, I ask you to notice.

To pause for the briefest minute to offer thanksgiving for the person who is part of the rhythm of your day, whether in latte or legwork.

To consider that each of these small moments is really the possibly magical action of converging stories.

And to tip. Tips are great.

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for the fellas [a certain two].

I fumble my way out of bed, resisting my body’s reminder that last night was a late one, replete with stories and laughter and mild abuses. But the truth is that finding these guys in the big, airy house takes priority over another minute of shut-eye. A half-hour later, and one is sitting across from me, balancing the morning’s scripture and coffee in the same lap, while the other takes the piano with force, filling the place with music, like it’s the most natural thing to do.

And I’m quickly overwhelmed by these gifts, these boys I cherish.

And I really mean “boys” in the most endearing of ways, for they are men. These two are fiercely loyal, abundantly generous, punch-in-your-gut wise. They tell the hard stories, they seek to protect, they cultivate, they create. They wrestle with Truth, pursue Goodness, and treasure Beauty. They love, and love well.

We are the most likely to make a scene anywhere—museum, grocery, coffeeshop, bookstore. We easily dance between music and theology and running shorts, circling back often to grace.

From them, I learn that chasing big dreams can be a sort of faithfulness. I learn that God constantly surprises us, that He is making all things new, that He weaves and shapes and bends and speaks. Here. Now.

They have shown me how to cut lemons and how to make the sign of the Cross, how to ask for help and how to fall in love.  They give me the tough answers, nudging and nodding. They hear what I am really saying, when I don’t even know what that is. They teach me how to walk with questions, how to loosen my grip on things that are not mine to hold forever.

They see me when I do not want to be seen, they speak words that build.

And, well, they are just as likely to tease me for being a girl or photo-bomb my twitter—some kind of twentysomething version of tugging on a ponytail, as brothers are likely to do.

I love them still, even though I often do not know how, even though my words are failing me.

But I know that now, in the brief repose of Jerry’s playing, as he reaches for his coffee and Preston underlines another verse, that my only response is to offer feeble thanks and praise. For the beauty of this friendship that undoubtedly seems odd from the outside, for this strange and undeserved grace I have been given, for this love that often looks like hair-pulling.

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dudebros. [stolen from Preston.]

and so i stay to follow.

“But didn’t you say just a moment ago that you had prayed for this kind of clarity? For an answer?”

I catch my breath in the middle of my monologue about “hearing God’s voice.” It’s a late Thursday night in February and I’m barefoot, on the phone with my teacher-turned-friend Bonnie, who has interrupted me with her candor as I pace the prettiest strip of campus.

I had just told her about a conversation with a friend about following well, about the fact that I am utterly clueless about any kind of post-grad plan:

“I want to be obedient,” I told this other friend (and even thought I meant it), “I want to go where I’m supposed to.” I paused to think of the scene in the second book of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, as his Green Lady character remarks on the divine command to stay away from the grounded “Fixed Island;”

“If I try to make the story about living on the Fixed Island, I do not know how to make it about [God.] For if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the air so we cannot breathe it.”

As it is, I do not know how to make the story about Him, thinking as I continued,

“But I’m not sure what direction to step in. How am I supposed to obey if I don’t know what to do?”

Until Bonnie pointed it out, I somehow hadn’t seen the connection between that conversation and the one I’m currently having, bare toes prodding the decorative lettuce somebody decided would beautify the place. As it clicks into place, I realize that perhaps the best and hardest thing about friendship is that you get called on your crap a lot more often than alone, more often than you would like.

“Yeah, I guess I did,” I answer her finally.

So why am I freaking out about this?

Because God doesn’t just straight-up, as-close-to-audible-as-you-can-get, talk to you on the back porch of the coffee shop that doubles as your second home when you’re reading Luther of all people, telling you to stay in Waco of all places, for the sake of that Episcopal parish, of all things.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen, right? First of all, I’d have to get over the phrasing of “God told me.”

Really? He did? Well that’s nice.

And if He was going to tell me something, wouldn’t it be to, you know, do something else, maybe something bigger? More specific? Like plant a church, not just go to church? Or leave the country, not stay in the same county?

Amidst the cynicism, a fierce assurance is somehow planted deep, and it is this coupling that makes me feel like a crazy person the whole week.

And He knows this, too. Tomorrow, next week, you will not feel this way. You will doubt your ears, your heart. Write it down, tell someone–confess it, now.

I do not do this right away. I wait several hours, then call my mother, who (at least in this moment) does not think any of this sounds crazy at all. She is more supportive than I am. I get off the phone as my friend Preston climbs into my car. I tell him too–shaking, chattering, riled up–and he acts as if this is the most natural thing, like he expected it. One by one, friends and strangers nod in encouragement when I tell them, either in quiet response to a question or as a blurted announcement all its own.

Or in rambling phone calls under the green light of Pat Neff Hall.

Bonnie, too, accepts all of this with ease. She tells me that it sounds like this is what I was wanting, that it is an answer, and I wonder why it feels different than I had thought it would. In this moment, a string of words from another conversation, another winter, another issue float before me:

Maybe the brave thing is to stay.

And for an instant, one of few, I consider that perhaps the voice on the coffeeshop back porch isn’t just my unwillingness to pack up and leave, that maybe following involves lingering, that Waco might not be the Fixed Island.

And so, I stay.

paradox of grace.

I’ve been thinking lately about how odd grace can be—how odd it often is, in fact.

I think I know by now that it does not compute, at least to us—if it made perfect sense, if there was always a 1:1 ratio, a traceable reciprocity, it might not even be grace.

(And maybe the wonderful thing about it is the mystery, the very fact that we cannot examine its entirety cupped in our hands.)

Grace doesn’t make sense, thankfully so. It is what makes salvation possible for the most wretched, even me. Against the odds, the darkness that seemed so complete, so pervasive, is redeemed.

But sometimes, it’s just weird.

Sometimes, pigs can be a source of prophecy.

OK, OK, that’s a little out of context, and the Flannery O’Connor story I’m thinking of doesn’t have pink things squealing “Thus saith the LORD”s, exactly.

But her character Mrs. Turpin is convicted by the sight of pigs, prompted to call out to the heavens like a Biblical character herself, probably for the first time. By the end, there are crickets chirping hallelujah.

And then, there is that alcoholic priest in Greene’s Power and the Glory—who offers Eucharist with wayward hands. It is an image I cannot shake; at once it makes me cringe and gives me hope.

And it is odd, so very strange, that a King should come as an infant, that He should lay His head against straw, that His audience should be a smattering of shepherds.

That He should even become man at all.

I wonder if we lose something big if we miss the strangeness of this story in particular.

For one thing, we forget to make the transfer from this story to ours. We miss daily offering cloaked in oddity. We cease to expect it.

When we miss the arresting strangeness of the Incarnation, we miss the possibility of the incarnate in the strange.

I mean this both in the receiving and the giving—we may lose a certain kind of vision, as well as a certain kind of action; we are blind to its manifestation as well as the ways we might make it manifest.

Perhaps the most gracious gift to give is a pack of cigarettes.

Perhaps counting calories can confer a striking lesson about spiritual discipline.

Perhaps the song on the radio you hate can impart a sort of wisdom.

Perhaps there is a beautiful image of sacrificial love embedded in the functional dysfunction of a divorced couple giving each other their time, their talents, even their resources and roof.

Perhaps the most perfect confirmation of journey and change can come through a random run-in with a stranger at a wedding, states away from home.

Perhaps friendships can be formed in the most unlikely of places.

Perhaps at the moment we admit possibility in paradox, we discover how present His Presence is.

There is more to this, I think. More, because I do not know all the manifold ways in which grace may be strange. I have tidbits, whispers, moments where all I can do is shrug, and hopefully laugh and give thanks.

I’m wondering, what strange graces have arrested you, lately or otherwise?