Monday, December 21, 2009


I’m going to India next fall. I’ll be there for at least four months. The application process has been fraught with more snags and snafus than I anticipated, but its official now, or as official as it can be until I step onto a plane, and my heart has been humbled and awed by the process. God is so much bigger than any plans I could have made for myself, and it leaves me astonished by his grace and tender care of my heart when I look backwards and realize how he prods and crafts my days into a plan much wiser and more creative than any I could have made or envisioned for myself.

I don’t necessarily know why India. All I know is that I have watched this country transform so many lives around me. The dust of others’ travels has filtered back across the ocean to leave a trail upon my life, a trail I want to follow and see and taste and touch for myself. I don’t know why India, except that when I close my eyes and think about it I hear God laughing and I feel his pleasure over his children and my heart. I don’t know why India, except that she keeps trying to filter into the stories that I want to write, and so I go to listen and watch, taste and smell, touch and learn what I cannot yet sense. I believe that India has a lot she wants to tell me, secrets she wants to whisper in my ear, lessons that can filter their way through my heart to the pages of my stories and the lives of those around me. Except for these, I don’t know why India—just an inward feeling I don’t think I can find words for, at least not yet.

I don’t necessarily know what in India either. It’s hard to make plans for India, or so I’m told. I’m going to work in the slums, but I don’t know what that looks like for individual weeks or days or hours, and even if I did, it would probably change. But that’s okay. I’m preparing myself to be unprepared, to set aside everything I think I know about India and let her introduce me to herself on her terms. Until then, I like dwelling in the unknown.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another lesson in humility

This week I have been struck with the realization that I cannot decide I want to do something and then walk into it assuming that I will be wanted. It’s humbling to find that people have reservations about your character, to be knocked off your feet again and reminded that you are far from what you need to be. I have been reading lately in 2 Corinthians. This morning I picked up my Bible to find these words:

“But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord. For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.” 1 Corinthians 10:17-18

While I was reading this, it became so clear to me that I was walking into something I felt God had called me to do, but I that I was walking into it relying upon my own commendation. My self-confidence and pride seem so apparent to me now. I’ve spent some sweet time praying over this realization this morning. Despite the roadblock, I do not sense that the door I am trying to walk through has been fully closed yet. However, I now realize that it will not be by my strength, but by God’s grace that it will open. If He wants me to step into this new venture, He will make the way. He will commend me. I do not need to defend myself. And if I reach the goal, the process and arrival will have been made so much sweeter for this realization, for this reliance.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I’ve decided tonight that faith is like riding an airplane. The facts show that flying is much safer than me putting my hand to a wheel and driving across country, however, it doesn’t always feel safer. There is a moment just before take off when the wheels grind and clack and I wonder if this might be the night that the plane doesn’t make it into the air, the night the mechanics or the pilot make a mistake. I feel that I would be safer if I were in control, even if that control were an illusion. But despite the noises and my doubts, the plane makes it. We become airborne.

Sometimes faith doesn’t feel safe. It hasn’t felt safe this past year as several of those dearest to me have been forced to fight against cancer, are still fighting now. It doesn’t feel safe to stare into a future with so many spaces left purposefully blank to leave room for God to work in the unknown. It doesn’t feel safe to watch those close to me stumble or cry out in pain in their journey towards God and know that my task is not to fix but to pray.

These things don’t feel safe, but somehow they are. I know they are safe because this weekend I looked into the eyes of a man who told me that God was reshaping his sense of well being and anchoring it firmly around God in the midst of the questions that cancer brings. I know because the only way I stay determined to face the future is through my dependency on the idea that life’s ultimate meaning is something bigger than what I can see. I know because I can’t control the lives of those I love, because the only one who is strong enough is God.

Right now I’m thousands of feet above the ground. When I try to analyze this fact it can be frightening—nothing but air separating me from a deathly fall to the earth. This is the moment when I need to trust, trust in those who know more than I do—the engineers who fashioned this plane, the mechanics who cleared it for take-off, the pilots who are driving it into the night sky, and God, the one who is blowing winds underneath the wings and holding the laws of physics together. My willingness to rely on faith is what will bring me home.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How He loves us...

There is nothing more profound than the knowledge that God loves me.

He sees every moment I choose to turn the television on before opening His word. He feels each instance when my heart slights one of His children for my own selfish gain. And He loves me. He hears the ugliest thoughts within my soul, the ones I fear to reveal to any other human being. And He loves me. He sees my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, my stumblings. And He loves me.

Celebrate his death and rising,
Lift your eyes, proclaim his coming.
Celebrate his death and rising,
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes…

I’d forgotten how to wake up every morning with the pressing realization and gratitude for what God has done. I’d forgotten how much He loves me. I’d forgotten how vast His grace is over my heart. I’d forgotten how surrounded I am by all of His goodness, by His very presence.

And yet, when I go to offer up this realization to God with what I think should be shame, all I can sense in response is His immense love and overwhelming pleasure over my heart, a father who smiles on the fumbling steps of His child. This is goodness. This stirs the ineffable within my heart. There is nothing more profound.

I love you, Abba Father—so imperfectly… but I do.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Living by Prayer

From The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers.


Teach me to live by prayer
as well as by providence,
for myself, soul, body, children, family, church;
Give me a heart frameable to thy will;
so might I live in prayer,
and honor thee,
being kept from evil, known and unknown.
Help me to see the sin that accompanies all I do,
and the good I can distil from everything.
Let me know that the work of prayer is to bring my will to thine,
and that without this it is folly to pray;
When I try to bring thy will to mine it is to command Christ,
to be above him, and wiser than he:
this is my sin and pride.
I can only succeed when I pray
according to thy precept and promise,
and to be done with as it pleases thee,
according to thy sovereign will.
When thou commandest me to pray
for pardon, peace, brokenness,
it is because thou wilt give me the thing promised,
for thy glory,
as well as for my good.
Help me not only to desire small things
but with holy boldness to desire great things
for thy people, for myself,
that they and I might live to show thy glory.
Teach me
that it is wisdom for me to pray for all I have,
out of love, willingly, not of necessity;
that I may come to thee at any time,
to lay open my needs acceptably to thee;
that my great sin lies in my not keeping
the savour of thy ways;
that the remembrance of this truth is one way
to the sense of thy presence;
that there is no wrath like the wrath of being
governed by my own lusts for my own ends.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What next?

God shifted my thinking this summer, about the future and about me. Who am I? Only God knows the complete answer to that question, but whatever the answer is, it is who I am now, not who I will be when I reach a certain goal. I’m graduating in May; I used to think that would make me feel more satisfied with my life. Then I thought maybe finishing my masters or starting my own family would accomplish that goal. But I’m learning again that God is the only one who can satisfy the deepest places of my heart, and my life doesn’t start somewhere in the future. I’m living it here and now, and I like it. So there is no rush—no rush to get another degree, no rush to start a relationship, no rush to do anything but enjoy the season of today.

I’ve made a decision not to apply for graduate school until next year. I’m throwing out the “if onlys” and am going to take a year off. Because I’m not in a rush. I want to take the time to rest and get the most out of my master’s when I do decide to go back. In the meantime, I’m anticipating adventure, ways and time to invest in relationship, and stories to write. I want to taste and touch and see and smell the world. And I want to find words to express the ineffable.

Today I dipped my toe into an ocean of an idea. I’ve been standing at the edge staring for a while now, but today I got just the teeniest part of my wet. I sent out an inquiry about spending some time in India next year. And I’m excited. Not just about India, but about life. Because whether I go to India or not, in eight months my future melts back into the unknown, and I love it. I have months of wide-open opportunity ahead of me for God to show up and shift my perspective of the world yet again, for Him to teach me about Himself in ways I can’t yet fathom. So I’m excited… whether or not it makes sense to anyone else.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Slightly Askew

To be an artist is to be a prophet.

This is what my fiction professor challenged the class to consider this past week, because prophets are not those who just look; they see. They have a heightened and unique sense of sight and uncompromising vision. In other words, artists are the ones who look at the world through a frame that is slightly, or drastically off-kilter from those of everyone else. If the frame of most people hangs perfectly level on the wall, the frame of an artist finds acute or obtuse angles to set itself by. If the frame of the majority is a square, the frame of an artist is an oval, or triangle, or better yet maybe a hexagon. Because lets face it, those of us who are artists are just a little bit weird. We break the rules, change the norm, prolong the air of childhood, and take the long way round just because. We hang upside down in trees, take notepads into crowded places to record strangers’ words, spend hours drafting manuscripts or scores while everyone else is sleeping, and all for what? To find a different perspective. We see something we are convinced no one else can see, and we are compelled to find a way to express it, even when we lose sleep and get stared at while we hang upside down. And the problem is that the things we try to express are ineffable. There are no words or paintings that can fully capture what we have to say. But this does not stop us. Because our frames are hanging crooked. In our vision, the rules bend. We haven’t yet learned what can’t be done. We find the faith of children to conquer the impossible.

So this semester I am praying for vision, for the just the right angle to slant my view of the world, of God, and of myself. I am asking for boxes to be broken and for stories to come and teach me. Because writing is not just a selfish endeavor but also a means to engage community. Writing is a form of hospitality, of creating space for things other than myself, for ideas that are bigger than who I am, for characters that do not already have a voice. To create is to learn, to force myself to understand, to find words for what cannot be explained. Art is crazy, but it’s beautiful. It makes my heart come alive. It must be similar to the feeling that overwhelms God when one of His children finally starts to understand, to see themselves in the light of how they were made, to settle into becoming heaven’s work of art.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Traveling Mercies

On Monday I found myself driving back towards Tennessee and my final year as a student at Lee University. During the first couple hours of my journey I drove east under the light of a crescent moon and a few stars that seemed to reserve their brilliance for the last lingering moments before dawn. Then the sunrise began to peek its way over the horizon. The contented sense of beauty and life it evoked from my heart made me want to get up at five every morning. I love the beginning moments of a sunrise, the gentle lightening of the sky while the world lingers between dark and light. On this particular morning, I crested a hill in my drive and dipped down into a valley laden with fog. It was lacing its way through the contours of the land and covering the hills with a sense of peace. I should have been mildly concerned. Fog and driving do not usually mix well. But I wasn’t. As I crossed over the Missouri River the fog gave the impression of steam lifting off the water. The sight was breathtaking. And I could see just enough ahead to keep traveling in confidence.

When it comes to life, foggy moments do not seem rational or ideal traveling conditions. We feel much more confident if we can see miles of flat Nebraska plains stretching before us as we drive, rather than proceeding somewhat blindly, seeing only enough to know that in the next five seconds there is nothing that will cause our vehicle to crash. But as I stared at the fog, it occurred to me that some of the most beautiful moments in life are laden with fog, or at least they can be beautiful if we learn to rest in the midst of them.

There are so many aspects of my life that seem unresolved: relationships that are just out of reach of where I want them to be, decisions about the future that remain unclear, words I want to write but don’t yet have ways to say. But destinations aren’t meant to be reached instantaneously. It takes a lot of time and patience to arrive at them. It took me eighteen hours of driving to reach Tennessee, longer than I planned. I saw the sun for only a few hours of that drive. I drove under a cloud the entire time I was in Missouri. Five hours of torrential rain assaulted my car and my vision. There were moments I couldn’t see at all and was forced to stop and rest. Several hours into the storm I grew frustrated and impatient. I had to remind myself that there was nothing I could do to get to Tennessee any faster. I had to drive every inch of the 1021-mile trip whether I was cruising at 70 mph or crawling through a rainstorm at 45. Worrying about what time I would get in that night wouldn’t change my circumstances. I would arrive when I arrived. I might as well sit back for the ride and rest.

Somewhere in Kentucky I came out of a calmer rain shower to see fragments of a rainbow along the horizon. As I was admiring the splash of color in the sky and meditating on the faithfulness of God, the highway turned to bring the entire arch of the rainbow into view and to carry me right beneath it. I felt covered in the arms of a Father who knows how to love his children. I felt confident that whatever this next season held, he would be there with me and we would find beauty within it.

Contentment in the places where we have not yet arrived is a gift from God to those who learn to rest and trust in who He is and what He is doing. God is an artist with time. When He crafts time to be right and brings the needed mediums to combine into their places together, beauty wells up and our hearts know that God is good. But until that time is right, no amount of striving will get me any closer to where I want or need to be. It is in those times of fog and torrential rain that I am tempted to question the goodness of God, to allow stress or pain to overwhelm my heart, to loose vision of what or Whom I am traveling towards. But if I can learn to press into the heart of the Artist, to allow Him to complete what He has started rather than get in the way, then He will bring rest and contentment to my heart.

I have an image of a Father trying to paint a masterpiece on a huge canvas while his little son keeps trampling through the Father’s paints and smearing his fingers on the canvas in an attempt to help accomplish the picture he thinks his Father should be painting. The Father is patient and only smiles time and again as he wipes away the numerous smudges from his little boy’s hands and dips into the paint to begin again. But the painting would find its completion so much quicker if the child would be content to sit curled up in his Father’s lap, resting and watching the picture unfold.

I want to be that child, content just to be in the presence of my Daddy as He paints in my life. I want to learn to rest instead of strive. I want to trust that eventually we will get there together.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Contentment. Sometimes the word seems to evade me, flaunting itself just beyond my reach. One would think contentment should be calm and easygoing, patiently waiting for his companions to ease up alongside him. But he is not. I find contentment to be very energetic, dancing vivaciously ahead down the road, leaving me out of breath trying to catch up. When I seek the company of contentment, I always seem to lag behind, but perhaps this is only a perception.

I think I am not alone in being fooled into believing that contentment is a feeling. If I am content, then the evidence of my contentment should be exposed in the way that I feel. So often I battle with my feelings, longing to find contentment in Christ, wanting to be satisfied with where He has led me, and yet still feeling the pangs of unmet desires, even lusting after things that are not mine to have (at least in this time and place). In these moments I judge myself lacking in the quality of contentment. Inwardly I harass my soul for its selfishness, its lack of gratitude for all the good things God has placed within my life. My heart seems to have failed.

But what if it hasn’t? What if, like so many other aspects of the Christian faith, contentment is not a feeling, but a choice? I have begun to learn the lesson that love is not a feeling; it is a choice. When I love my family, my friends, my God, my feelings do not exude with easy affection and pleasure every moment of our relationship. Some days bring hard choices, choices made to pursue the actions and hard work of love even when the feelings are evasive. Is not contentment the same? The moments I find myself unsatisfied, maybe the true test of my contentment is not how I feel, but what I chose to do in the moment of dissatisfaction. Do I choose with my actions to be content despite what I feel? Do I press on to pursue what God has laid within my life? Do I run to his arms with my imperfect feelings and let him help me find contentment? Or do I give in to my feelings and let them carry me away?

I am encouraged to think that perhaps contentment isn’t always supposed to be a comforting feeling. Sometimes I think it is meant to be a struggle, and it is in the midst of that very struggle that I find my success. Instead of believing I have failed, I can rest in the fact that I am right where I am meant to be, fighting for something worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When love hurts...

I watched the movie “The Shadowlands” this past weekend. It chronicles part of the life of C.S. Lewis when he met and married and lost his wife Joy Gresham. When Joy knows she is going to die of cancer she tells Lewis not to shy away from or ignore the pain that is coming. She says, “The pain then is part of the happiness now.”

I have heard it said before that grief is the proof that we have loved deeply. I think that grief is not just the proof of love but an integral part of loving itself. One cannot find love without finding pain. Love opens the heart, makes it vulnerable, leaves it exposed. To love someone creates the risk of losing them, the pain of watching them suffer. To love invites the pain of separation, whether for months or the remainder of a lifetime. To love means watching those I love suffer and finding the strength not to turn away when it hurts so much it would be easier not to love. Sometimes it would be easier not to care, not to helplessly watch and feel love share the agony between my heart and theirs. But that is the essence of love—refusing to stop caring even when the heart is left screaming for relief.

Knowing this, is the happiness of loving now worth the pain later? Do I choose to love now even though I know it will hurt? I think about my future and the hope of loving a man. Is the privilege of loving him going to be worth the pain? Inevitably I will hurt him; he will hurt me. I will have to watch him suffer, watch my children suffer in one form or another. And chances are we will not leave this world together. We will be separated and the separation will rent one of our hearts with a pain I know I cannot fathom. Knowing all this, can I still choose to love? Should I?

The act of loving is the heart of life, community. If I do not love… I dare not consider the alternative. Though life with love is a life including pain, life without love… is it life? So many hearts try. They lock themselves away into isolation with cement walls built up around their hearts. They have tasted love and felt its pain and lacked the courage to love again. But what is left to them but their pain and isolation?

Pain is the beauty of love. It is the refiner’s fire that turns love into something stronger, deeper than the shallow affections of men. I ask, without pain, can love find life? So yes, I pray for the courage to love, though it presses thorns inside my heart. I pray for the courage to love my parents, my siblings, my friends, the family I one day hope to have, to enjoy the moments of happiness and to stay engaged in the moments of pain. I choose to watch when they suffer and not become immune. I choose to let their pain become my own, knowing very well there is nothing I can do to ease it but continually lay it before the throne of grace. This too is love, this pain. Perhaps the most beautiful part of love.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

For Pam Macchi

…in gratitude and remembrance

Soft hands,
Hands worn with time,
Held the brush
Dipped in the paint
Paused before the canvas.

Calm eyes,
Eyes wizened to the steadfast pulse
Underlying life’s inconsistencies,
Closed—to envision a scene
No other earthly eyes could see.

She painted
Upon the canvas
Upon the hearts of those she touched
With her soft hands
Her calm eyes.
She painted
What others could not understand
What the Bridegroom allowed her to behold.
She trained wandering eyes to trace
The line of the horizon
On her canvas, to envision
What it took only faith to see.

Her voice was quiet
Yet strong
Waiting to speak with purpose,
Calling her children by name.
It was the voice of a mother
Shepherding a flock built of generations
And nations,
Born from the womb and birthed from her heart.
No matter how they came
She loved them,
Carried them,
Taught them.

Her feet, calloused,
Tread a path for her children to follow,
And broke into dance with the man she loved
Upon the horizon she saw when she closed her eyes.

I close my eyes
And I still see her
Dancing—eyes thrown open
To immense beauty,
Beauty the struggle of life prepared her to see.
She is near still—
Living on in her children,
In those to whom she gave of herself,
In the heart of the man who shared her life.
She painted indestructibly
With mediums that will not fade.

Her eyes are closed,
Yet they are open.
They are still seeing what others cannot understand.
Her heart is still resonating
With the steadfast pulse underlying the pain of inconsistency.
If she were here she would take our hand
And help us trace the line of the horizon to rest
Upon the chest of her Bridegroom
So we could feel the steady pulse of his heartbeat too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Growing old...

It feels weird to get old. Not the kind of old that means gray hair and grandchildren, but the adult kind of old, the feeling that keeps reminding me that childhood is gone. The playfulness, the laughter, it’s still there, but it’s different; the world has changed. It’s the kind of old that watches individual friends become families, the kind of old that needs high heels and leather portfolios for graduate school or job interviews, the kind of old that has to take all the dreams of childhood and actually make a decision about what I want to be when I grow up. It’s the kind of old that brought my brother and I to sit on the porch for two hours last night talking. We talked about relationships and dreams, but as we talked I realized that we were no longer speaking with the voices of children but of adults and that our hopes were no longer just dreams but possibilities. It was the feeling of the world becoming tangible.

I’m not sure how I feel about getting old. Some days I miss the weightless years of childhood when my only tasks were only to dream, play and learn. Some days I like being grown, facing a world of endless possibilities with the power to make some of them come true. Some days…

As I face the reality of getting old, I wonder if it is possible to retain both worlds, that of a child and that of an adult. I ponder if I need both worlds, if I can’t live fully without them. Perhaps this is the secret of getting old, to stand between two realities and plant a foot in each, to combine the authority and resources of getting older with the innocence, trust and faith of a child, to blend the power to dream with the power to create. I think what scares me most about getting old is that so many adults seem to be too tired to play, that sometimes I too am already too tired to play. I never want to lose the ability to laugh really hard, to run through the grass with bare feet and loose hair, to play in the rain, to dream of things beyond myself—the ability to be young even when I am old.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vagabond no more

I’m home. Still living out of a suitcase because I haven’t unpacked… but I am home. No more traveling for a good long while. My siblings were excited to see me, and they made me feel loved as usual. The entourage was waiting in the driveway with a banner for my car to break. But I do have to say they are very opinionated. Within two hours of walking in the door they had made several judgments: according to my little brother, (who weights in at all of fifty-some pounds complete with toothpicks for legs) my backside is too big. I also have too much hair, I’m getting old, and apparently I’m supposed to be having children because I got baby bibs in my birthday presents. Becca saw them at a garage sale and bought them because they had music notes on them. They said they were for my hope chest, but I don’t really believe them. If I let my siblings plan my life I think I would have been married three years ago with fourteen flower girls and would already have five children. Oh well. I love my family with all their ridiculous comments and take it stride; it is my proof that they love me. No mistaking I am at home either.

The last five months have been a brainial, emotional and physical whirlwind, but they have landed me in the place I love most in the world. My goal for this summer is to be. To be with the people I love, and just to be—be still, be calm, be quiet. There is a certain attic calling my name, and a box of books from which I may choose (a luxury only afforded to me three or four months out of the year), as well as a few of my favorite couches scattered throughout town. I’m ready to stop thinking so hard and listen. If I hear anything worth sharing, I’ll let you know.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


If you are wondering why the blog posts have been scarce (okay, nonexistent) over the past month, it is because I have assumed the life of a vagabond. Not really, but almost. By the time I reach home next week, I will have lived out of a suitcase for five weeks. Within those five weeks I will have traveled in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and finally Nebraska. That makes eights states, five hotels, four homes, two graduations, one wedding, and ten hours of college credit squeezed into the cracks.

Traveling has been fun, but I'm now counting the days until it is over and I can tuck myself into a little Norfolk nook and stay for weeks without moving. I must confess it will also be nice to be able to open the fridge or look at a menu and not see crawfish or anything fried. (Honest confession-I'm not a fan of traditional southern or Cajun food. I know Brian, you are disappointed.) For that matter, it will be nice not to look at a menu again for days, maybe weeks. Eating out every meal for two weeks is not as appealing as it sounds. But though the south has not won me with its food, it has captured me with its music-Louisiana Cajun and Zydeco music to be exact. Music and dancing is such a part of community life in Louisiana I am tempted to believe I was born in the wrong state. Everybody here dances, frequently. Yesterday I was on four dance floors. I've learned everything from a waltz to a two-step to a three person jig, and then I accidentally brought down the house with a spontaneous Cajun solo act at a live radio broadcast. I guess I found my first real dancing audience among the senior citizen population of Eunice, Louisiana. If grad school fails I have a back up plan of moving to Louisiana and going into the show biz. Saying I love the music here is putting it lightly. But I'm still looking forward to coming home. I've purchased my Zydeco CD souvenir and will bring it back to Nebraska so I can dance to my heart's content among those that I love and miss.

The blog posts will resume with more regularity shortly.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Repentance which leads to salvation

I was at a small group last night where we talked about how the church’s job is not to show the world how to be holy. Our job is to show the world how to repent. In Psalm 51 David is repenting before God from his sin with Bathsheba. He cries out appealing to the mercy of God:

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your Presence
And do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

It is in this moment, when David is on his knees, begging for mercy, at the lowest point of his life—this is when he can say:

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be turned back to You.

The turning of sinners comes through David’s own repentance. How often I hide my “messiness” from all but the closest few. I think I have to act with a standard of holiness in order to convince others to follow my God, but perhaps the thing the world needs most is to see me in my broken places, to have me acknowledge my full humanity, and then have them see God accept me all the same. The world may not be convinced until they see the church upon its knees before the throne of God.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I love the stars because I have to be still in order to see them. Somehow the expanse of what I cannot understand filled with pinholes of light thousands of years away has the power to empty me of myself and replace my chaos with calm.

This weekend I’m in the middle of writing a long critical paper. I’m wading through articles and struggling to understand big words that I constantly have to stop and look up. It fascinates me, but at the same time it is too much. My brain is aching. And when I finish this paper I have another waiting its turn to be written. So I don’t have time to be still, but I think this is the moment when I need it the most.

I just came in from lying on my back, the grass beneath me, the stars above. One calm moment is giving me the strength to keep reading, to keep writing, to keep using my dictionary.

I think I love the stars because I can’t gaze at the heavens and keep my eyes on the world around me at the same time. The stars force me to be calm because to find them I cannot think of anything else. They allow me to forget, for a moment, all that seeks to weigh upon my soul. They lift, not just my burden, but me. They are beautiful, patiently waiting to be noticed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Violent Reckoning

I put together this first draft of an essay for a class this morning. Next week I will conference with my professor and discuss its strengths and weaknesses, but I wanted to get some feedback from another audience first.

Violent Reckoning

The doorframe was broken. It lay in pieces on the living room floor. The deadbolt was exposed. The computer from the office was missing, the back door left ajar. Upstairs in the loft, my thirteen-year-old sister, Jessie, was hiding behind the futon. Alone and frightened, she hadn’t moved for hours. Violence had entered our home.

On March 18, 2009 a car crashed into a ditch alongside a gravel road just half a mile from my home. The driver was inebriated. He stumbled down our driveway as my sister watched from the window. She locked the doors and hid while he broke into our home. A few hours later Jerrod Altevogt was taken into custody for burglary and attempted sexual assault of a woman he had been with. He never knew my sister was in the house.

The night of the break-in I was in Tennessee, far from my home in rural Nebraska, but I felt violated when my mother called me with the news. Home is sacred, the place I want to be safest from the world, but Jerrod proved it was not invincible. Calloused hands breached my sanctuary with evil intent. Crime statistics took on a name, a face, a story.

Violence is no longer what happens to anybody other than me. I and my family are not immune. Criminal headlines in the news are not so easily set aside. In small ways I have felt the victims’ pain, lived their fear. At the very least, I live with the understanding that there is little preventing their story from becoming my own.

My sister knows this reality too. As she hid behind the futon, panic and confusion assaulting her heart, all she could do was send up a silent prayer of desperation. Please God, don’t let anything bad happen to me. Even when the intruder left, the silence hung dead and threatening around her until my mother came home. For hours and days following, her mind replayed the scenario over and over like the sound of a skipping CD. She imagined what could have happened, what it would have been like to be found, to be the victim of a sexual assault.

I know my sister’s fear. It came to haunt me when I was only fifteen. The sheriff called to warn my parents. The authorities had picked up a man named Brian for stalking a female college student, and he mentioned my name during the interrogation. But they let him go for lack of sufficient charges, something I couldn’t understand. Why were men like him allowed to roam the streets and violate my sense of innocence and safety? Like my sister I replayed scenarios over and over in my mind: where he would find me, when he would take me, how he would use my body to satisfy his erotic pleasure, and whether or not I would live to carry his child. The threat never materialized, but the fear of his intent violated something more fragile than my body.

It has been years since I have seen or heard of my alleged stocker, and the deadbolt on the front door has been fixed, but my sister and I both carry the scars of our fear. I can’t leave windows uncovered at night because I imagine Brian’s eyes watching me. Jessie cannot pass over the bridge Jerrod crossed to get to our home without remembering the night she watched him come. Every time a car follows me for more than a few blocks at night, my heart races until I watch it turn off the road. Jessie doesn’t walk into the office without realizing that Jerrod once stood there. The immediate danger is past, but the experience remains to make us question: How do we live in a world pervaded by violence, a world that threatens our safety?

I could cling to hate as if it were a life preserver, but would it keep me from drowning? Will my fury speed the work of justice? Will it do anything to solve the problems of violence? Will it protect me from a second intrusion?

I am haunted by the faces of violence, by the hate and fear that drives them. I wonder at the depth of pain that could cause one human being to violate another. I wonder about Jerrod Altevogt and try to imagine his life. Was he so lost and without a home that he was so desperate to break into my own? What did his mother feel as she held him to her chest as a child? What does she think now? Did she ever bother to hold him at all?

Cynthia James picked up the paper on March 19, 2009 and read the article concerning Jerrod’s arrest. She remembered a day twenty-four years earlier when a woman showed up at her church with an infant in her arms, asking for money to buy diapers. The pastor gave Cynthia the woman’s name: Altevogt. Cynthia took a package of diapers to her subsidized housing apartment building. Altevogt’s name and face were seared in Cynthia’s memory when the door opened and, in an instant, the look on Altevogt’s face went from ‘who’s here?’ to absolute anger. She wanted something other than the diapers.

I can only speculate about what went on within Jerrod’s low-income home, but I cannot help but conjecture that Jerrod was born into a home with a mother who cared more for herself than the needs of her child. He was raised to take what he wanted by a mother who tried to work the system. His home was not a safe place. Could he know what he was stealing from my sister and me as he broke into ours?

Breaking down our door and stealing from our home were not the actions of a victim; they were the actions of a man who made a choice. No matter what his past or his home, Jerrod Altevogt is responsible for the decisions he made. I do not support misconstrued victimization, but I also believe in the power of compassion to heal broken lives. Justice does not require hate.

I don’t know how to coexist with violence, but I know that hate makes a sorry companion. I don’t know what to do when my safety is threatened or what to tell my sister when she faces the same, but I know what to tell her not to do. I tell her not to live in fear. Otherwise violence has won. I tell her to walk across the bridge and go into the office, to remember and learn to live beyond the memories. When I finish telling my sister, I tell myself. I close my blinds and muster the courage to drive through the dark. Injustice will not dictate my life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Unexpected Sanctuaries

This morning I was sitting in chapel, and I have to confess I was studying. I was rapidly trying to finish a novel I needed to be prepared to discuss immediately following the service. I was focused on the words on the page in front of me, engrossed in the story, when God interrupted. Though I was sitting while everyone around was standing and worshipping, the music swelled louder than usual, wrapping its arms around my being, invading my heart with its presence. The bass was throbbing so loud I could feel it resonating within my heart. But I realized the rhythm shaking within me was not the notes of a bass line melody. It was God.

The words were singing. God is jealous for me. He loves like a hurricane, and I am tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy

I closed my eyes for a moment and let the windstorm break through into my routine, blowing me over in its wake. It was only a moment. I still went on reading my homework during chapel, but it was a rich moment, a moment when my studies and my worship visibly fused, a moment that left my reading infused with something more. Oh how He loves me.

Life is full of unexpected sanctuaries. They come in all sizes and shapes, from all directions. The book I was reading this morning (The River Why by David James Duncan) in chapel put it differently. A fly fisherman states:

I stand in this sweet river, stabbing invisible golldang tippet
at the eye of this golldang fly through the strength of heaven,
light of the sun, radiance of the moon, splendor of fire,
speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, stability of earth,
firmness of rock, flow of river, song of bird, beat of heart,
filling and emptying of lungs, Christ with me, Christ behind
me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ
on my left, Christ on my right, Christ in the heart of every bird,
bug, or fish who passes, sees, touches, or bites me, Christ in every
tree, flower, cloud, blade of grass, element, galaxy, and seen or
unseen world that encompasseth me.

Every moment, every piece of creation holds the potential to become a sanctuary, something sacred transformed by God. I am so grateful that He doesn’t always wait for me to discover them on my own, but that He brings a few to me, blowing through my days like a hurricane.

Blow on wind, blow on.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Seven Stanzas at Easter"

Unfortunately for me, Easter represents the time of the semester when I often want to sit down and cry because of all that needs to be written in the next couple of weeks. My mind is tired of reading and crafting words. This weekend Amy, a good friend and a fragment of the home I miss so much, is coming to visit, so I will set aside my books and papers to pause in expectancy for the rising hope of the empty tomb. But for now words fail me. So I offer instead the words of the poet and author John Updike in honor of Easter's approach.

“Seven Stanzas at Easter”

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring-cleaning of the Soul

The rains have come. Green is creeping into the blanket covering the ground. Growth has come out of hiding. With the arrival of spring, hands everywhere are reaching for the accumulated dust of winter to shake it out into the sunlight. I too find myself in a season of cleaning, shaking out the dust within my soul.

For weeks I have felt the persistent creep of Sonlight into my heart. The presence of God has swept through my house, brushing against the surfaces of my home, disturbing what is stagnant. With his finger he left his name, Holiness, written in the dust collecting on my heart. With his passing, the coffee tables, bookcases, and picture frames hanging on my walls are not as clean as I supposed them to be. The dust is no longer subtle next to the contrasting streak, a window of what my soul needs to be. My heart screams, wash me.

When it comes to forgiving, I find the small things can be harder to let go than the big. The big is obvious, violent, something I cannot dismiss. It leaves painfully visible residue, garbage that reeks and causes me to stumble where it lies in the middle of the room. I have to carry it out just to regain function. But the dust and the cobwebs are easier to leave unchecked where they gather in the corners of my heart. They are undemanding, translucent, hardly visible, but over time they cover the vivid hues of my faith, subtly clouding the clarity God instilled.

I tend to put off dusting. It is tedious and easy to make excuses for. When I cut corners, I avoid dusting. It can wait, I reason. It is not dirt, just dust. I hide my sin behind another name. I choose soft, rose-colored words to describe what I feel. Frustration. Annoyance. Aggravation. I layer the excuses with the dust, a new one for every week I leave the grime unchecked. I protect my rights, justify my actions, my thoughts, my feelings. I protect the cobwebs hanging from my ceiling as if I could disguise them as works of art rather than signs of neglect. But dust is a form of dirt, and I am not frustrated. I am angry. I have chosen not to forgive.

Friday afternoon I sat down to clean the first corner on my list. I took out a piece of paper and began writing, listing offenses. As I wrote the tears and pain that surfaced surprised me. The dust was growing in size. I sobbed with the anguish of what I felt, the truth of what I saw. My little cobweb had grown into an ugly sticky web, and I was a helpless bug entangled within its grasp. It was controlling me.

Armed with the truth of my hate, I laid it all before God one sentence at a time. I read them all, and He acknowledged my pain, my injustice. Together we swept them out into the light with the hands of forgiveness and blessing. I felt the web dissolve. I ripped the paper into shreds and flushed it away, amazed that something so small could hold me so strongly.

This year spring has brought a renewed determination to be attentive to my heart, to find the unholy dust mites hiding in the cracks and crevices of the floorboards, behind the dressers, and in the high ceiling corners. Nothing is too small to be left unnoticed. It takes so little an offense to wield power of alarming strength over my heart. It is time for spring-cleaning. It is time to make sure Holiness is welcome in my home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Lately I have been overwhelmed with big picture life decisions. I feel like I just got finished making college decisions and now I have to make them all over again. I was walking home from class in the rain yesterday with too many ideas for words rolling around in my head. In that moment I felt that I could keep writing forever and never succeed in capturing them all on paper. It leaves me with a question that is haunting me:

If all I ever do with my life is write, will that be enough?

I’ve been plagued by this question for weeks, sometimes in a different form. How much of my identity is meant to be intertwined with writing? Who am I? I want God to tell me. What does He want from my life? When I dream, when I plan, am I building a box for myself that is too big or too small? Am I building a box for God, or am I allowing Him to break into a world I never could have imagined just a few months ago?

What if I did write forever? What if my life never encompassed anything else? Would that be meaningful enough? Enough for who?

I know my writing is spiritual, that God is leading me with words, through words, towards words. But sometimes I feel that it is not spiritual enough, like there are secular and sacred boxes and my writing is stuck in between, like it adds to the kingdom but I need to contribute something else to lead a fully purposeful life. I feel like it is not enough.

Enough for who?
Enough for me?
Enough for others?
Enough for the church?
Enough for God?

In the rain I found the truth. I feel like I owe God something more.

But I don’t. Because of His grace I don’t owe Him anything apart from my love. And that is the one thing that has been harder to give Him of late. I’m so caught up in trying to plan a life that matters that I can’t rest in His love, the one thing that is sure to make my life count the most.

I can love Him and write. Then it won’t matter if all I ever do is write. It won’t matter if I never impress another soul, never leave a name people will remember etched on a tombstone when I breathe my last. I’m starting to believe, but I haven’t found the end of this truth yet. It is telling me I don’t have to figure out the future. I don’t have to write the end before the beginning. I just have to love. Love and write. Write my way into the middle of a story. I thought my story was about tomorrow, but the title is slowly revealing itself: A story called Today.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oceans of Mercy

The sea today is disturbed. Not angry, but agitated. The waves are rolling in forcefully, attaining greater heights. Less sand remains visible, the ocean seeking to hide as much of the beach as possible. Every few seconds the ocean surges with new strength towards my feet. It is cloaked in foam and froth as if a child dumped a lifetime supply of bubble bath into the waters. The ocean is more gray and white today than blue. Clarity is missing, shrouded in a veil of mystery. God what is stirring your waters with such passion? The waters are yearning. God is yearning. The waves seem to crash with frustrated longing as if they have waited a long time for the desire of their heart. Today they must voice their desire with added volume. This is not an intimate invitation like the estuaries of the Gulf; it is a passionate plea. Come, my Love, let me sweep you away. The ocean is desperate. It surges and retreats ten, fifteen feet at a time. It seems to be gathering strength and resolve, inching closer and closer with each passing moment to where I am. Soon I will no longer be allowed to stay neutral. I must move further beyond the reach of the waves or allow them to overtake me. I find myself not wanting to move.

I cherish the days when God brings the waves to me, when His sovereignty overcomes my weakness, my inability to move, and He brings His heart to my own. It is in those days that I have the choice: pull back on the beach and reject His washings out of guilt, or allow them to come, drowning me in an ocean of love, though undeserving I will always remain. His mercy is as breathless as the ocean view before my eyes.

Then there are the days when the water is calmer, gently lapping upon the shore, calling, inviting. The ocean of love awaits, always present, never straying more than a few feet away. It is waiting for me to get up out of my chair and walk towards the water. It meets me as I come.

Some days are easier to come than others. I don’t know why. Some days it only takes a gentle prod and my feet go racing down to the water’s edge and beyond. Other days I remain glued to my chair, the stretch of sand beneath my feet as vast as an ocean to cross. I hold back. I don’t know why. I want to go. The sand is scorching hot. It is misery to stay away. The water holds what I need, refreshment and rest. Yet I fear its depths of love, judge myself deserving of the shore. So I stay put, until the water finds me in my stubbornness or I can no longer bear to stay away. There comes a point where I will go even if the water obliterates me. I would rather die within its clutch than live a thousand days scorched upon the shore.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Wet Feet

I love the water. If I can touch it, feel it, submerse myself in it, I enter a realm of heaven. But even just the sound of it has the power to calm my soul, to infuse a sense of wonder into my earthbound form.

Sometimes when I find the water it is trickling or rushing, pouring over rocks and riverbeds, dripping, falling, traveling. It carries the divine in its droplets. I stand on the bank and watch a bit of heaven pass before my eyes. I am happiest when I get to ride along.

Other times the water finds me, falling from the sky. The droplets fall, sometimes gently, sometimes torrentially. They grace my head, soak my hair, gather and run down my face. In moments like this I tilt my head back, throw my arms wide and welcome the invasion of heaven. I feel one with the rain, and yet not quite. I find myself wishing that my skin held the ability to absorb the rain into my body, divinity into my being.

Today I have found the water and the water has found me. I sit on the shore of a vast ocean, an unsearchable immensity of God, and it is lapping at my ankles. The first few feet are shallow and clear. They uphold the ruse that maybe I could understand. But just beyond my feet the sandy footing drops away. The water is deep, dark and cool. I cannot comprehend it. Yet I want to dive long and deep and hard. The water calls to me. It comforts and soothes. When I can be near, my heart is at peace. When I dip into it, I am refreshed.

I have no explanation for why the water holds such a great influence over my heart except for the fact that I find God in the water. The water is not God. But it is like God. God invades the water. I drink water, I wash in water, and I stay alive. I play in the water and I find life. I listen to the water and I ponder its whispered mysteries.

The waves are lapping up on the shore. Today they are not crashing with force. They approach gently but consistently. They speak not of urgency but of gently offered intimacy. Another day may bring another message. God is speaking. I wish I knew what He was saying, the interpretation for the language of the waves. But somehow I also don’t mind not knowing. I don’t mind listening to what I cannot understand. I don’t mind being able to hear the rhythms, the musical inflections, the unique sounds that cannot be heard when I am focused on comprehension. Some days it is important to comprehend. But today is not one of these days. Today is a day for me to get up off the sand and go dip my toes in the ocean. It is a good day just to be, a good day just to let divinity wet my toes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Accepting Anger

I was angry. Friday night I finally admitted it. I don’t like to be angry. It takes me a long time to realize when I am angry, and then even longer to admit it. But Friday night I was. The soul numbing weeks of distance from God were taking their toll. My head was aching from the effort to keep it all inside. So I took a walk in the dark and voiced all the thoughts I was loath to think. I told Him how much it hurt to have Barbara gone, how much it hurt to be given an apartment that was a home and a friend who was a sister and then to watch it disappear. I told Him how much I wanted community, questioned Him on why I wanted it so badly. And I told Him how much it hurt that I felt I was still crying the same tears that I cried two and a half years ago on the Sharp-Davis roof. I said it all and then I cried, not great wrenching sobs but simple gentle tears. It was beautiful relief. I had wanted to cry for two weeks. I knew there was something stuffed down inside of my soul, but I couldn’t get it to come out. As the tears fell from my cheeks a weight fell from my soul. There was freedom in honesty.

As I cried I discovered something. I wasn’t angry with God. I was angry with myself for being angry. As a result I had cut myself off from His love. I thought I had been doubting his love, but I hadn’t. I knew He was loving me all along, but I didn’t want Him to. I was suffering under a load of guilt that I wanted God to agree with. I was ashamed of my anger, of my ingratitude, of the way I was clinging to my rights when I knew I didn’t have any. Who was I to be upset with what God allowed? I only lost a roommate (hopefully only temporarily); other people lose their families, their freedom, their means of survival. What was my complaint? It was nothing, yet I was clinging to it like it was something. I was angry at myself for not being able to move beyond this point. I perceived my anger to be sin. But God didn’t. I think He wanted me to get angry. He was waiting for it. He was waiting for my pride to break, for me to realize that I am not above getting angry. My guilt wasn’t holiness, it was faulty righteousness sculpted by my own hands.

It astounds me how well pride can hide itself within my soul, masquerading as righteousness and submission. I didn’t have a clue. I was deceived into believing that my response was what God wanted. I meant well. That first night I didn’t want to be angry. I wanted to accept whatever God was doing and move on. But somewhere that acceptance turned into an act. I kept stuffing my true feelings to feign submission. But God wanted my honesty, not my charade.

I’m still mulling over the issue of anger. My heart has always assumed that anger was wrong. But that’s not true. Ephesians tells me to be angry. It is not the anger that is wrong, it’s the actions that follow the anger that can be so dangerous. But so is denying its existence. Putting the verse in context brought something to light:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth to each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” – Ephesians 4:25-27

In these verses God asks for honesty. And if I doubted, He even specifies that honesty includes anger. He wanted me to be angry, to admit my pain and carry it to Him so He can take it from me. In my pride, I was so determined to not let the sun go down upon my anger that I hid it. I deceived myself and the sun went down on my anger while it was buried within my heart. It took weeks to pry it out and the devil got his opportunity in the interim.

I was so concerned with not claiming my right to be angry. I didn’t think I should have a right. But maybe it’s not about rights. Maybe it’s about God wanting to acknowledge the pain of my heart, about Him wanting to love me in my pain. He can’t love me in that place of pain if I won’t acknowledge its existence. Maybe it’s not about me having rights. Maybe it’s about God dying for the right to love me. Who am I to stand in the way?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Benadryl-Induced Curbside Revelation

Today was one of those days where you wake up and everything is wrong. The world is not right. But it really started last night when I took a Benadryl so my head, the one that felt like a stuffed balloon, could sleep. I love colds. And I love Benadryl. I slept beautifully, so beautifully that I missed my alarm. My eyes squinted open and somehow I knew things were not right. There was too much light filtering through my window. I glanced up. The clock read 7:48am. I was supposed to have been in class three minutes ago. I faced the moment of panic: “I’m late.” Followed by the lackadaisical: “Well, I might as well not go.” Followed by ten seconds dedicated to the arguing factions within my brain. I opted to salvage the class. So I grabbed the nearest set of sweats, my notebook, a pencil, my keys and phone and dashed out the door. Running to class I felt awkward and ugly. I could feel sleep clinging to me with my ponytailed bed head and tired eyes, making me feel a spectacle. Then I became one. I tripped over the curb in my haste and sprawled on the cement. Everything within my grasp went flying. My cell phone landed in two pieces. I felt like I might have too. But there was no time to feel sorry for myself or dust the dirt off my pants. I picked myself up and finished my sprint to class just in time to take the quiz on grammatical verbs and noun phrases.

My day didn’t get any more dramatic than that moment, but it hasn’t really felt any better either. I never quite got myself together. The hours have felt both fragmented and blurred all at the same time, the disjointed pieces flashing by without slowing down. I don’t really want to be writing this. I don’t want to be doing anything accept closing my books and going to sleep so I can start over in the morning. But I feel that I need to be writing this. There is something important about sprawling in the parking lot at 7:51 in the morning.

Today was a reminder to me that I am human, that I trip, that I fall, that I can’t always hold it all together. I usually seem well put together, well-groomed, responsible, not someone to let things slip through the cracks. I try to present myself to the world as a model student, a model peer instructor, a model friend, a model Christ follower, a model you-fill-in-the-blank. Most days I fool the world. Or maybe I don’t. But a lot of days I fool myself. I get confident, even cocky. “Yeah, I can do this,” I think to myself. God chuckles. He sends me an extra potent Benadryl. He sends me a curb and clumsy feet. As I sprawled on the ground I remembered. My sense of propriety broke in two and my true self spilled out on the concrete along with my books.

The truth is this sprawled picture is a lot closer to my real self than the put together image I conjure up each week. Because the truth is I am a mess. I feel scattered. And I am incapable of picking up all my pieces and making sense of them on my own. I can’t pick the grime off my soul as easily as I picked the grass off the knees of my pants this morning. I need God to do that for me. And every day I don’t fall flat on my face it is because of Him. So I hope you can picture me sprawled on the ground at 7:51 this morning. And I hope you can laugh. Because I am laughing. I hope you find relief in knowing that we all have mornings when we fall apart. We are all human. You are not alone. And I am thankful that we have a big God who loves to pick us up. Here's to clumsiness.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grief understood

Today I am grieving the absence of a friend. And I think I am going to be grieving for a while. She didn’t die. She just went home. But it was unexpected, sudden. Yesterday I had a roommate, and today I do not. The bare mattress and empty closet have stared at me every time I’ve come home since last night, reminding me of the absence in my heart. I need to rearrange them, but I haven’t found the courage to yet.

She is not permanently gone. She is just removed. There is still hope of being reunited in the future. But for the first time I am experiencing a taste of having someone near and dear to my heart being jerked away. There was no time to prepare, to accumulate the strength to let go. She was just gone. Maybe she will get to come back. Maybe not. But either way I am bereaved of her companionship for the months ahead. And the ache in my heart is throbbing.

In part, I feel guilty for feeling so strongly. There are so many in this world who are experiencing pain more acutely than I. In my heart, death has not called, only separation. But are they so different? Isn’t death just another level of separation? Today I can sympathize, albeit imperfectly, with those who are grieving from the worst kind of separation. On a small scale I can relate to those who never have the time to say goodbye, who are left unprepared for the gulf that an absent loved one leaves behind.

Barbara and I shared life together. We weren’t family, and yet we were. She became as a sister. We lived together, cooked together, ate together, sorted laundry together. We laughed and cried and shouted our frustration in tandem. As far as possible she knew my world and I knew hers. We shared a bond of loving common souls. She was the safest place for me to be myself, and I hoped I was the same for her. We were honest, with our questions, our struggles, our triumphs. We weren’t afraid to discuss hard questions and leave them unanswered. Every small joy we shared, things that if I told anyone else, they wouldn’t understand.

It’s the accumulation of all the small things that is hardest. I can cope with the fact that she is gone, that she needed to go home. I find it harder to face the million of small triggers throughout the day that remind me of that loss: the picture on the wall that is no longer there, the champagne glasses we bought together in target just to drink ginger ale, the fact that I am walking to class alone when she usually walked with me, seeing the q-tips in the bathroom drawer that she told me keep. And there are more. So many words I hear, words from friends, from strangers alike, my mind relates them to what I want to be present. No allusion is too vague for my memory to lock onto. There are stories hidden within each reference, each object, each empty space. I find her everywhere.

I don’t have any insights to offer on these feelings I am facing. I just want to state them. I just want to acknowledge that I can sympathize with grief. Someday I will realize what I am gaining through this experience. But not today. Today there is no explanation for the tears I am letting come at will.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Tonight I don't have words... only tears. I wish they could penetrate this electronic screen and inscribe themselves in a way that you could understand, that I could understand. Grief is a strange thing. Just when I think I've shed the last drop of moisture in my body somehow a fresh dam wells up, burning the insides of my eyelids, demanding to spill down my cheeks. I have to let it. It's part of the process of coping, dealing with separation, something the human heart was never designed to endure. I can't hold the tears inside. They would accumulate, building into solid blocks of something-freezing the emotions within my soul. The tears carry my questions, ensuring I am still alive. They are searching. They pull my heart towards heaven.

"Why, God?"

"I love you," He replies.

"But, why?"

"I'm here."

He catches the tear that falls down my cheek.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Depth Dimension

As a child the challenge to touch the bottom of the deepest end of the pool could not be ignored. Some days I spent half my time in the pool exploring my limits of depth. As the water flooded over my head I fought to resist my body’s tendency of acting like an inflation device, pushing myself further and further down the wall. Could I make contact with the floor before my lungs reached their limit? Alternately I plunged down as far as I could force my body to go and clung to the side of pool sucking in deep breaths of air. Determined, I continued until my feet found the solid tiles of the pool’s surface buried under twelve feet of water. Then my muscles hurried to push off of the bottom with a thrust that propelled me to emerge, gasping but satisfied at the surface.

Most of my explorations occurred at the local YMCA pool. But the hot summer days Mom took me to the outdoor pool were the best. The outdoor pool boasted a high dive. Climbing the ladder to the top was frightening, but the plunge that followed never failed to be worth it. I never attempted the feat of diving or flipping from such a height, opting for the unembellished “pencil drop.” But I would stretch my body as long and skinny as it would become, aiming to pierce the water with the least amount of resistance. The increased span of air between my body and the water allowed gravity to pull harder, at least in my childish perception. I always plunged deeper into the water off the high dive than the lower one. The seconds spent under the water after a jump were my favorite. The noise of the people at the pool disappeared, replaced by the sound and feel of cool rushing water. I relished the moment, allowing my body to hang suspended in the water for as long as possible before floating to the top and making way for the next diving artist.
I didn’t realize it then, but I think I held a fascination with depth.
Two years ago I went spelunking in a cave in northern Tennessee. Along with nine of my friends, I went crawling into the bowels of the earth with nothing but a small flashlight strapped to my head. It was exhilarating. I crawled over rocks and squeezed through narrow passageways, traveling deeper into the ground with every movement. Face covered in clay, hands reaching to help friends who were less comfortable with the adventure, I was perfectly content. The trek ended in a cavern, a hidden gem of beauty half a mile below the surface of the earth where the slow dripping of water had crafted cascades of artwork in the clay. I stood in awe. After exploring the group paused to listen to the darkness, headlights clicking off, inviting the silence. The moment etched itself vividly in my memory. It felt like the depths of the earth were pulling something out of the depths of my being. I disappeared into the expanse of something so much bigger than myself. I wanted it to stretch on forever.
My friends tell me I have an obsession with deepness. Every once in a while it will crop up into a conversation. Then they stare at me as if depth is a novelty, as if I’ve stunned them. I wasn’t trying to. Their shock takes me by surprise. I never quite know what to say.

I won’t deny their assertions. I am fascinated by depth. Given the chance I will dive. What befuddles me is why people consider that distinctive. Does everyone else like staying in the shallows? I don’t. I can’t. It makes me miserable.
Superficial conversations haunt me. They haunt me like standing next to the ocean on a hot summer day. All I want to do is dive in, but for some reason I’m only allowed to wet one foot. I find making friends is difficult. It’s not because I don’t value relationships; I just can’t start them well. I hate wading through the meaningless questions about the weather the first ten times I meet someone before we finally make it to a conversation of substance. The result is that I have deep friendships, but I don’t have many.
Last week I sat on the couch with a friend, and I dove. I saw something beneath the surface and I went after it. My friend didn’t follow. It was awkward, trying to have a conversation with my head underwater and hers firmly planted on the shore. Maybe I should stop plunging where other people don’t want to plunge. Maybe I should start reading the ‘no diving’ signs. Maybe I should stop asking so many questions. Maybe I should.
There is something about depth that is vulnerable. Maybe it’s the element of the unknown, crawling into what can’t be seen or expected. Maybe it’s losing sight of the surface, worrying about what will happen outside ourselves while we are away exploring deep caverns. Maybe it’s both. Maybe some people are scared to discover what lies beneath the skin, scared of finding something ugly, scared of finding nothing at all. Or maybe they do know what is inside, but they’ve been hurt one to many times to let anyone else see. Maybe they’ve shut themselves up like an oyster, holding their pearls tightly inside.

I know diving is scary. I’m afraid of it too. I’ve experienced the sensation of throwing myself headfirst into a murky body of water, not knowing what I will find. I’ve faced the questions that leave more questions than answers. I’ve also watched a lot of people walk up to the edge of the diving board and slowly back away. Their fear is sensible, tangible. I’ve felt the thwack of landing on the water the wrong way.

Yet given the chance I will dive, despite my fear. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I don’t know why I remain stubbornly attracted to deepness when everyone else wants to stay at the surface. All I know is that I’m stupid enough not to change. I don’t want to change. Somehow I believe souls were meant to go deep. I believe that if I wait long enough I’ll convince someone else to be crazy enough to dive in with me too. So far the water has caught me every time.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

just as I am...

I was reading a prayer from the Valley of Vision this morning and a phrase caught my eye:

"Help me to honor thee by believing before I feel, for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith."

It was a great reminder to my heart. Just because I don't feel fully in love with God on any given day does not mean that I am not in love with him. What matters is what I choose. Often times when I pause and consider my heart, I guilt trip myself for not dwelling more consistently in the throes of passion for my Savior. But the emotion isn't the most important. I hope it is there some days. It is sweet when it comes. But on the other days, the dull ones when getting up to have a quiet time seems more like a chore than a delight, its nice to know that my relationship with Christ does not completely hinge on the way I am feeling.

The real test of my faith is what I am choosing to believe, and hence, how I am choosing to act on that belief. If, by lack of passion, I mean a lack of obedience or neglect of vital disciplines of the faith, then that absence of passion should be a concern. But if I am merely referring to the ideal emotions that most expect to be there when they spend time with God, well, they are not indispensable.

I've watched so many people stay at a distance from God for years because they just can't "feel" Him. They are waiting for the perfect surge of emotion to push them into the kingdom. Sometimes that happens. But a lot of times it doesn't. Perhaps its healthier if the surge comes after. Then we won't come to God just to get an emotional high. We will come because He is God, because no matter how we are feeling at any given moment, He is worthy of worship, worthy of believing in, worthy of everything there is to offer.

Some mornings all I have to offer God is a groan as I roll out of bed as the result of not getting enough sleep. Some mornings all I have to offer is a plea of "just get me through this day." Some afternoons I would much rather take a nap than pour over the scriptures. There, I've said it. But every time I choose to turn my heart towards Him no matter if I enjoy it or not, those are the moments of my belief. They too are the moments of my worship. They are not often beautiful, but they are genuine. I think He understands that, and I think His heart smiles at any feeble attempt at being with Him, whether or not the emotional high comes attached.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Over the past few weeks I've thought a lot about desires. I've wrestled with the rightness of my own, the intensity of my own. I've wondered why the human heart want things so intensely. Is it right? Why do I want two seemingly opposing things at times? How do I reconcile my desires with the way God has orchestrated my life right now?

They are hard questions. I still haven't found all the answers. I know that my deepest desire is to embrace the fullness of everything God seeks to place in my life. When it comes down to absolutes, I want His way over mine. I trust Him, that He has only my best in mind. But then there are the days when what I want overwhelms me. Emotions, desires come crashing in like a tidal wave of immense proportion. I can barely find control, barely keep my feet on the ground. On those days it takes all my strength to keep fighting for my thoughts and my heart to stay fixed on Christ. What do I do with the way that I feel? Can a person really control the way they feel? I'm not confident they can, but I don't say that to provide an excuse. Even if I can't change the way I feel, I can choose whether or not to feed that feeling, whether or not I am going to let it control me. I can throw myself at the feet of Christ and plead with Him to re-orientate the priorities of my heart. I'm finding that He meets me there.

Even in those moments, the desires never completely go away. I can feel them throbbing beneath the surface. Some days God gifts me a reprieve, days I don't have to fight as hard to maintain control. Other days my spiritual muscles groan from the effort of continuing the fight. There are days I wish God would change the way that I feel, take away the desires I have. I don't always understand why I have them, why they are allowed to stay. But on second thought, I don't think I would want them to go away. I think they serve a purpose that I don't fully understand.

Desire is the essence of life. Souls that do not have desire, do not have anything to long and strain and fight for: are they alive? Are they living? I think they are only existing. Faith is about desire, wanting more of God. Desire pushes the soul further, providing the curiosity, the impetus, the urgency to delve deeper.

God desires. His desire drove Him to become an artist, to craft a people after His own heart. And after His people strayed, His desire drove Him further to the cross. As His child, my heart was designed to desire too. Desiring is good. It is a mark of God's craftsmanship on my life.

The things I desire are good things. I think God wants me to desire them. But He wants me to desire them with an open heart and hands. The tension comes in value. Which do I value more, desire more? His heart, or the gifts from His hand? Will I be okay if my desires are not fulfilled? Will I still be able to look in His eyes and declare, "Lord, you are good." Ultimately I have to remember that my heart was designed to desire Him above everything else.

This tug-of-war within my heart is an awkward dance. It can be extremely painful. But it can also be extremely beautiful. I can't wish the dance away, no matter how awkward some of the steps my be. I still haven't figured it all out. But I've determined not to stop fighting for the sacred. I'm going to ask more questions. I might not find conclusive answers. But I'm going to keep asking them anyways. I'm going to keep desiring, and in the process keep prying my fingers away from the things that I want when I let my heart want them too strongly.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


In the midst of noise, even noise directed in worship to you, God, I stand in silence. While a room full of people are voicing their words, their melodies of praise around me, sending them heavenward in a whirlwind of greatness proclaimed, today I have chosen to whisper. I am so grateful that You hear me, that You hear my silent whisper. I mouth one word and You are there with me, with me in the noise. You hear me as if I were shouting. You hear me as if I am the only one speaking. You hear me as if nothing else matters. The expansive miles of eternity compact into a space the size of a human heart when you listen. I am speechless.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I haven't posted in a long time. They say it is good for writers to get in the habit of writing a little bit every day. Who is they? I don't really know. But whoever the authority is I have to confess I blatantly ignored their advice over the Christmas holidays. I don't regret it too much either. But now I'm back at school. I already have assignments due which means I don't have a lot of time to be writing anymore, but I'm going to do it anyways. Isn't that how it always works. Somehow I never get motivated to do the things I want to do when I actually have time to do them.

I have had several thoughts over the past few days that I am processing by bits. Slowly I hope to write pieces of them over the next few days (or weeks). I want to begin with a conversation I had with someone yesterday about community, but I have to provide some writing before I write. I threw together some musings on community for a class assignment yesterday. They aren't fancy, but I offered them sincerely. In class, my classmates and I traded papers to offer feedback. I offer the bulk of my musings first and then I have some questions about one classmate's response:

Whenever I pause to glance behind me and consider the things that have deeply impacted who I have come to be, nearly every defining moment was birthed within community. When I ventured outside the borders of the United States for the first time and found my heart enlarged to hold something more than my individual dreams, it was within the context of community. When my heart was moved with compassion and urgency for those surrounded by such need, watching the responses of those around me just as much as seeing the need itself was the source of my inspiration. When my heart was at odds with my mother and our disagreements were tearing us apart, it was community that gathered round and graciously walked us through the pain to a place of deepened friendship. When I faced a fear that paralyzed my heart for months, filling my thoughts, isolating my soul, voicing my cries to community broke the chains of paranoia and gave me the strength to move on. Community has encouraged me to aim high, never allowing my youth to become an excuse against grabbing hold of the deep things of the kingdom. Community has provided a venue for me to test my identity, discovering my gifts and how they can be used to bless those around me. Community has constantly challenged me, never allowing my success to morph into complacency. Community has taught me things I could not have learned on my own. Community has sat with me in my places of greatest pain, facing the messiness of my struggles right along with me, providing the strength to press through. Community has never let me quit, and yet they have taught me how to rest.

When I picture community I see snapshots of images: eyes that light up when I walk through the door. A soft wore-out couch with a small frizzy dog and a woman who lets me lay on her lap while we talk about life. Homes that are always open. Doors that never lock. Fireside chats under blankets of down. A grown woman who will come and curl up on the floor next to me when tears and despair have taken control. Laughter. Bent knees and folded hands. Those who mediate hearts when communication has failed. A couple who will stay up and cry with me till the first hours of morning when I show up with tear-stained cheeks on their doorstep. Games. Friends soaked with river water from playing tag in the creek. Eyes that read my own and see into my heart. Cards and letters that never fail to come when miles separate. Children and parents, the faces of wisdom, a room full of people, a family of families. If strength could be seen, this is what it would look like. If love and sacrifice and beauty had faces, they could be painted with these images.

This is my community. They are the body. They are home. They have birthed and stayed and grown my faith. Even though I have gone so far away to school, every summer and winter I return and dive into the deep waters of community as hard as I can. I spend my breaks reconnecting. My community washes my heart and leaves it refreshed and strengthened to face another season away from home.

The distance from home has fostered a deeper appreciation within my heart for what community is and means and does. And moreover, how hard it is to find. Three years at school has given me barely a fraction of the community I experience at home. No one here knows me as well as the church family that grew up with me over the span of twelve years. They can’t read my heart, they can’t understand my reasoning, they can’t challenge me as effectively, they don’t trust my voice without reserve. But they are still important. Two years ago I chose a church family in Tennessee. They feel nothing like the one back home. There are so many weeks when they seem to fall drastically short of what my heart craves, so many weeks I am tempted to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. But I can’t. No matter how flawed or imperfect my community here may be, I still need them. I cannot walk my faith alone; I have learned this from my community back home. They have taught me the importance of community so much that every Sunday morning and a sprinkling of other occasions, I choose to sacrifice of my time and invest in community, not only for my sake, but for theirs as well. I believe in the value of community so strongly because I know how important it is to the Father to whom I have pledged my faith, and because I have experienced the power of what true community provides. It is a gift, something to be treasured. Something every human heart needs. Since it has been so bountifully bestowed upon me, my heart longs to bestow it on the people around me in whatever small ways I am able.

One my classmates, full of questions, pulled me aside after class.
"Is what you wrote true?" she asked. The look on her face was a mix of bewilderment and longing.
"It is," I replied. "That is what community has meant to me."
Something just shy of shock played across her face.
"I didn't know people like this still existed," she stated.

We talked a little more. I assured her again of my experience and I watched her struggle to take it in. She wanted to hope for something like that. I could see it in her eyes. She wanted to hope so strongly. Maybe she did. But I think deep down she was afraid to, afraid of her disappointment. She wanted to be able to find life like I had described, but she didn't really believe it was possible.

The conversation has haunted me for the past day. Why is my story so hard to believe? I know that what I have found at home is unique, but why is it unique? Why is it an anomaly to sit and have an honest conversation with someone, to build homes that are always open to others, or to cry with those who cry? What is the church if she is not these things? I wanted to assure my classmate that a life like this was more than possible, but I couldn't. She can't move to my home, and I don't have another place here where I can direct her. But I know I awakened something within her.

I awakened something within myself as well. The longer I have stayed away from home the more I have come to appreciate the community that God provided and is still fostering for my heart. Yet I do not appreciate it near enough. I have not appreciated it hard enough to start providing it for those around me. I have not appreciated it enough to fully lock into the urgency for its existence.

I cannot be a community. There are days I look around at the vastness of need in the eyes of those around me, in the eyes of my classmate, and I wish I could be a community. I wish that I had what it took to satisfy the buried longings in so many hearts. But I can't. I am only one. And I am not God. But somewhere I have a role, a role that needs to be developed further. What else can I be doing to foster an environment prone towards birthing community? Does the smile on my face and the look in my eyes speak value into the strangers I pass as I walk to class? Is my tongue slow to speak, slow to verbalize anger, and quick to listen to the voice of another? Is my heart a safe place for others to pause and rest? Is my door open at any time of night or day to welcome the tear-stained cheeks of another? Do I take time to invite others to sit on my previously owned couch and chat about life? Do I have the insight and the courage to move from shallow conversations to places of depth and insight? I can't be a community in and of myself. But I can't let the immense need keep me from being anything at all. Change starts with one. I have seen the eyes of one who is silently pleading for me to ask these hard questions and press through to find hard answers. Something must be done.