Monday, February 28, 2011

Gratitude Whispered Today (Multitudes on Mondays)

The day is cold. It begins late (7 minutes late, to be precise, my figure flying to class where my poor professor must be wondering why on some days I just can't make the 8am call to contemplation). Rain taps gently on the windows and small grey clouds sit in my eyes as I look at the afternoon, the work ahead, the too-much-to-think-about.

And there is not much I wish to write, honestly, not much I'm bursting to pin down. But the discipline of the moment, of each moment, is gratitude. The discipline is ache of praise, is praise when silence seems safer, is praise when springtime bursts forth and when winter shudders through the branches of your heart. When you do not want to sing of the fire. When you do not want to bend with the weight of thanksgiving, of remembrance.

And today this list of gratitude is small, but still aflame:

1. Thank You for quiet.
2. Thank You for Your words in {John 14.27}
3. The smell of rain in the morning
4. For prayer with hands raised
5. For the Pulcinella Suite by Igor Stravinsky

May this day, each moment, fill you with the ache to praise, the ache of praise. May peace blossom in your heart from the One who is our peace. 


For Quiet Confidence (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and
rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be
our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee,
to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou
 God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Forgiving (and all God's people say... I'll try)

Lent is soon, soon approaching. It will round the corner of our week before we know it, before we can blink. It will appear snow-dusted here in New England, rustling the trees with the noise of preparation. In England I imagine the sky will look big and the beach in Devon that we always go to, that we always find, will be breathtaking.

Lent is rich with preparing. And this morning, when I woke up, a full hour later than intended, head still spinning with the hours of hours of homework left in front of me - I realized that I want to spend some time preparing for the time of preparation. So often I think, "Well, when Lent begins I'll..." and then scribble various possible answers in crayon, marker, slick black ink - I will rest on the Sabbath, I will give up makeup, I will read books not for school as well as books for school. I whisper my promises to myself over and over in the hushed light of Sunday morning snowy breezes and this morning I heard something whistle back through the silence and the clack of my keyboard.

Lent is about forgiveness.

Uh-oh. About forgiveness? About forgiveness, Lord? Do you mean, perhaps, me accepting forgiveness back from You? Or me learning to forgive myself for the multitudes upon multitudes of failures heaped all over the place this past week?

No, I'm afraid, as the thoughts float wearily in front of me, my coffee-soaked mind constantly questioning how and where and when and why I need to forgive. 

I need to forgive because He tells me to. I don't want to, most days. Most days I would like to nestle the hurts and griefs and small sadnesses in cardboard boxes and store them in my heart, labelled by name or by season, by type or by color. In fact, friends, I do this. My heart is littered with unmended things, words spoken and looks given that have never been erased from my catalogue. My heart is full of things that I keep broken, keep returning to as if the memory is a trophy of wounded. 

This is not how to live in love. This is not how to live forgiveness. This is not how to prepare my heart for the Resurrection. 

But He tells me the hard truth: forgive.  For it is written, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13.4-7). 

Love keeps no record of wrongs. I have a list a mile long, a list of words that were wrong, silences that were wrong, ideas that were wrong. 

What if this Lent I threw away the list? The list that we all keep, the histories of injuries and wounds, the stories of what this person did or said or forgot about? 

And instead... what if, this Lent, amid the lack of makeup and the presence of Sabbath, the burning cleansing fire of Love and the song of rejoicing, I wrote another kind of list
(Photo Credit: Clare Stanton, June 2006)

1. Thank You that the wind is strong today and whistles through the trees.
2. Thank You that I got to go to Dunkin' Donuts with Dad and talk about Kuyper. 
3. Thank You for 2 hours with Emily and the pure joy of loving good books.
4. Thank You for patience with me as I forget and relearn and forget again the story of Your love. 
5. Thank You for Kraemer Books.
6. Thank You for the question, "Who are you?"
7. Thank You for daffodils blooming
8. Thank You for Lillie's music
9. Thank You for the hush of prayer. 
10. Thank You for the season of Lent.

I will try this Lent to erase the list, the one I harbor safe and deep, the one that hinders me from loving fully and carefully and joyfully and well - and instead, to sing out Love. 

Join me? 


Friday, February 25, 2011

Fifteen and Somebody Tells You They Love You (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo challenged me to write five years ago into words in just five minutes!

Taylor Swift is right about being fifteen. I was anxiously cheerful, loudly inquisitive, poking and prodding around my heart to figure out what it meant to be a teenager, to love learning, to be more interested in understanding the meaning of "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet" in our Romeo and Juliet skits than be fascinated by what the Gap was selling.

I so wanted to be in love that I wove stories from chance encounters, from the scruffy-haired boy and magic marker sneakers. And it was the year of "Hilary, you look gorgeous" for the first time and the whirlwind hormones whistling through my heart.

And it was the year of discovering the special heart I have for those stories - Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility told me their trials and troubles and I lay on my bed that winter break so immersed that when my mother asked me if I wanted a cup of tea, I replied:

Mom, I'm in eighteenth century England now! I don't have time for tea! I can't answer that question!

And oh how much I loved literature and my backpack heavy with good meaty words and learning to put them together, cup them up to my ear like the conch shell and listen for the sounds of the waves.

Fifteen and those books were God whispering, I love you. That Somebody who tells you they love you, and I heard it first in those pages, in the breathtaking genuine joy that tumbled out of me like a wriggling puppy, legs splayed and uncontainable.

Fifteen and I had no words for the joy, no words for the marrying of trouble thoughts and contented thoughts. But I bounded through the stories and through the school and through the harsh New England snow filled with it and all that wilderness of teenage life, that was me.

I see a picture and think, yes, yes. I'm still growing and sometimes my head still spins and I want to act out Romeo and Juliet and I want to live in the big stories. {And that squirming wriggly fidgety puppy of life and joy still bounds out of me some days - today is one of them.}


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Pray (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. After all, I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish good words. I'd like to start sharing some of them with you on this blog.

Word for Today: Pray.

Today? Today the word is one syllable and one syllable only. Today is the syllable that I cling to when I can't sound out anything sophisticated.

When I don't know the soteriology. When I don't know what difference the word "propitiation" means. When I want a word for what feels small and timid.

Definition: Pray, I'm told by the dictionary, is to address God with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving.  We need words that talk about our needs, our gratitudes, and that silence, that silence when we've started, Heavenly Father... and we can't get any further. Prayer is silence too.

Pray, verb. To lie in your bed as your eyelids droop and remember in a flash of horror that you never said "thank you" to Him who gave you breath this morning. That you forgot to lift your hands, even one little bit, in gratitude for the note your friend sent you in the mail, or the exciting news of acceptance to a scholarship program, or the anticipation of spring. You lie there, whisper, Lord, I forgot to say thank you. Covers draped over your tired frame, you sigh heavy and to the darkness of the ceiling, you say the most powerful words: Forgive me, Father. Pray means beg mercy, means knees-on-concrete mercy, means manna-from-heaven-daily-bread mercy.

Pray, verb. To sing. To warble loud and rickety through the day a song of ascents, a song of praise, a song that is always just in its first verse, a song that composes itself. You sing it loud when you can, and sometimes when you have to, you sing softly, you sing to cling to something small and flaming and alive. For life flames with God, and to pray is to sing of the fire.

Pray, verb. To live palms up. To hold the ones you love in the palm of your small sweaty hands and lift them back to the One who made them and say, Lord, be with this person. It is the audacity to ask for what He is already doing, to ask Him to go where He already lives, to ask Him to provide for the ones we love what we must trust Him to be already providing. We ask palms up, offer our beloved back to Love. It is hard to give them back, but we live palms raised to the sky and our hearts lifted up unto the Lord.

Pray, verb. The silence when the world has stopped its spinning. The silence when the last word of a poem drops like a pin in the crowd and we all hear it. The intake of breath when we cannot bear to breathe. When we want, with W.H. Auden,  to stop all the clocks, and dismantle the sun. When we are utterly emptied of words. When we need to grasp our hands tight to each other, when we need to sit arms wrapped close around each other.

Pray is empty yourself for another, empty yourself before God so you can make silence for Him. Pray is make silence.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
 O Lord, hear my voice!
 Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
   O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
   and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord
   more than watchmen for the morning,
   more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
   For with the LORD there is
steadfast love,
   and with him is plentiful redemption.

And he will redeem Israel
   from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130)

Pray is a word for every moment. Pray is a word for this moment. Pray with me:

For the Answering of Prayer (The Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of
those who ask in thy Son's Name: We beseech thee mercifully
to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers and
supplications unto thee; and grant that those things which we
have faithfully asked according to thy will, may effectually be
obtained, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth
of thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

God Sends Manna (Learning to Eat)

Today homesickness hit my gut at its morning sleepiness, settling in there like so much sand and gravel. The scene:

I sit in the student center, the side we call "Sunny Side" because of the windows, in my usual chair at my usual table. I sit reviewing notes for the class I have at 9:45, and reviewing other things here and there. And then I remember. My pen leaks ink and I leak a few tears, as I begin to scribble down all those things absent from the day:

I miss iced tea.
(Photo: Mandie Sodoma)

I missed the taste of Union Station Chop't with Hannah.

(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)
I miss the sweet smells of fall in Lincoln Park.

(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)

Remember how you'd dash out of the apartment and always, always, always slam the door accidentally? Remember how you'd curl up in a little ball and cradle your phone in your hands and tell Julie and Lisa those stories of growing? Hilary, remember how you managed always to drink Starbucks, to practice sign language, or flash that beautiful smile of yours at someone with all the radiant confidence that it did make a difference to their day?
(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)

DC is home, love. I write to myself as I prop my legs up on the chair next to me. It's okay to miss it. It's okay to wish it was still the vehicle for manna. 

And then the words flow fast like rain. Not puddle rain, joyful in your rain boots rain, not growing season rain. No, this is the harsh cold of water smacking the window pane. This is rain that blurs your vision, soaks through your jeans and leaves you shivering.

They don't tell you about missing home when you're home. They don't tell you that you'll suddenly want to claw your way onto a plane and search its seat pockets for your heart. There is no fine print for homesickness - you write your own side effects as you go, write into trembling shaky words that all you want is return. 

And oh, Father, Father, I miss this all so much, so much my stomach hurts and my throat catches and You make the missing hard today and I don't want here, I don't want this gift, this manna, this goodness. And I can't lie to You, because You are God and You are life and from You nothing is hidden. And I miss all of it, every day. 


And then I'm reminded, by that wise person who pulls me close when she hears that sigh of hard and she calls out: "There are good things in this day!"

I don't believe her all morning. I don't believe her at lunch.

But the manna finds me. It's our class on Catholic social thought and I get to present and my bones start to soak in teaching, summarizing the text and then asking the questions, and I feel a little light kindle.

And then the manna rains down, because I get coffee with my dad and he says, Yes, Hil, you can be a teacher. And then I sit in a lecture on Flannery O'Connor and I hear hidden bright and beautiful that writing is about the comedy of life. I am mesmerized, my mind filling with ideas about characters not yet written, ideas for stories and metaphors and that quick turn of phrase. I sit entranced by this lecturer's ease and his love for studying O'Connor and her Christianity, studying her characters as breathing, living, people. And I begin to eat, eat the good food that He puts in front of me. 

God sends us manna. Every day. Every day there is new provision, new mercies, new revelations. There are, as my wise friend Julie ponders in her blog, "many annunciations."

But so often, I don't want what I'm given. I don't want to eat this manna because I want it in its August package, with the shiny bow of Georgetown M St and the fresh clean air of Lincoln Park. I don't want to eat this manna in its messy package of the present, messy with my homesickness and my tiredness and my questions.

But I am learning how to eat. How to say thank you and take that first bite. How to pray over the day, how to swallow the good bread that is always given, always here, always what I need for the day. God always sends us manna, food from Heaven. He sends us that brilliant, breathtaking sky and that smile from someone on the sidewalk and He sends us each other and good thoughts and Flannery O'Connor and blogs from Lisa-Jo and Ann. He sends good bread.

And it is always good. 


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can I Tell You A Secret? (It's about my favorite thing)

Sometimes I don't know what to write here. I feel like my words are too - twenty-something, not aged liked really good Chateaux de Neuf 1982, not witty like the endless Calvin & Hobbes comic books piled high in our house, not wise like the simple sentences my mother says to me in the quiet of Sunday morning rides to church, where I am just, well, floored by how true it is, how good it is. 

And then there is of course that other nagging problem that so much of this season of harvesting, of springtime bursting in my heart like Tendercrop Farm in May when the rows of pots of new flowers are eagerly awaiting replanting in the rich soil of our garden... so much of that doesn't really come to me in words. 

It's just this quiet presence. Oh, hello, God. I welcome Him into the grumpiness of a Monday morning. You're here again, aren't you. I get out of my bed and twist my face muscles in a small smile and yawn loudly. Well, okay then. I pull sweaters from my closet. It's You and me today, God. I rummage through drawers for a pair of socks. I love you. Those words - I can't tell if it's Him or me saying them, or maybe both of us and He's pulling me in again and again into the dwelling place. 

Today in church I huddled in my long coat and listened to our priest preach on Ephesians 3. I was wearing my early morning scowl and I thought, Hoo boy. Here we go for thirty minutes. And we did (or maybe it was 22 minutes...). But let me tell you the treasure that God whispered right straight into me. 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3.14-21)


It isn't about words at all, is it? I ask suddenly timid and trembling.

It's about the Love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
It's not about your words. It's about Mine. 

Oh. I forgot. I kneel close to the pew in front of me and cradle my head in my hands.

I'll keep telling you, He says. I'm going to teach you how to remember. I want to dwell in you. 

There are the words I'm waiting for, and they don't come from me at all. My own words taste a little like sawdust compared to the ones He keeps speaking. 

So that secret? Sometimes I wonder what this whole blogging escapade is for, what it's about, why I do it. Sometimes I doubt that there is a purpose other than emptying my tired head. Sometimes I wish I had better words.

But oh, how sweet and deep and real and alive are the words that He speaks and breathes into us, words of His power and glory and faithfulness and love. And you know what? It's those words that give us life. 
(photo credit: Mandie Sodoma)

Pray with me:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we
do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our
hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace
and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted
dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son
Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Friday, February 18, 2011

On Pianos and Pens (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo challenged me to write a post about friendship in just five minutes!

She pulls the red car into the driveway of my school and I bound towards it, light, light, light with the promise of laughter and time. The piano music she's just written seeps from the speakers and we weave words of love over the sounds she has made. There is so much to tell, so many stories.

She is the friend who challenges me to create, to write words of love and life and the old myths emerging in my heart onto the page. She reads my words as eagerly as the best novels, and tells me the truth about myself when it's hard and beautiful and good. We sit in the semi-dark of the wide living room, smells of perfume and the crackling fire in the grate and her hands alive at the piano. "Listen to this, Hil!" she exclaims and then the music rolls through the room and it is the sounds of friendship and the sounds of blossoming beautiful selves. We love each other in our words and music and the promise of journeying together hand in hand to peer out over the possibilities of what is next.

I peel peaches at her smooth counter and she kneads dough for pie crust and the sounds of our many years of growing and laughing sing their way through the house. We dream of fixing up a tumbling cracked villa in Tuscany and going to find the England of Jane Austen together and sharing a little house on Little Neck in Ipswich where we could bake and write and sing and teach. When we are together we dream big and wide and with abandon. Anne Shirley and Diana dreams. Kindred spirit dreams.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Blossom (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. After all, I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish good words. I'd like to start sharing some of them with you on this blog.

Word for Today: Blossom

Definition: According to our denotation friends (the pages of a dictionary), blossom means either the bloom on a flowering plant - an apple blossom or orange blossom. Merriam Webster also tells me that it means, "the state of bearing flowers." We need synonyms that sing about springtime, flowering, blooming. The verb part is the blooming, the growing. For blossom, we need spring words. 

Blossom, noun. The fresh face scrubbed clean of a hard day's work. When I step out of the shower and open my eyes, feel the cool air soothe my new warm skin. It's that just-peeled feeling when you've washed off the troubles, the missed moments, the trying, frustrating, heavy moments. 

Blossom, noun. The smell of that freshly gathered backyard bouquet. When I was little I frolicked through my backyard as if it was the grand mysterious forest and the widest plains. I sang to myself, told myself the myths and the legends that scramble over rocks in the garden and hide behind old pear trees. I scampered through worlds, each one a retelling of the best stories, of the oldest stories. I used to be Snow White and my younger brother was "one of the little men" and Mom would have to wake me up. But when I woke up I was just me, and I would say, chipper as a sunflower - "Howya doing!?" That is blossom life, fresh and real and grass-stained

Blossom, verb. To come into the fullness of beginning. I'm here now, I think, so much of me emerging and retreating and blooming. I thought it might unravel when I returned from a here that felt so real, so hopeful, so new. I thought blossoming could only happen in Italy and DC and far away from home. But look! I want to tell myself. Look! 

You bloom here. And we all bloom in our present places, we are all always at the beginning of bearing flowers. Imagine that - everywhere we go, we can bear flowers, gather a precious bouquet into our hands and make it lovely and luscious and give it freely as a gift. I blossom here. 

Blossom, verb. My word for the year with my dear friend is emergence. The other one I chose in my heart was chrysalis. Blossom is like that word - chrysalis - a beautiful one to roll around your vocal chords and whisper into the ears of those friends who are in hard places. Blossom is emergence, the promise of fuller harvest, of perhaps one day even eternal harvest. Blossoming is delicate work, fragile as cocoons spun around our new selves. And we take time to grow, our small acorn seed selves nestled deep within us, who must be nourished and nurtured and who require much patient love. Blossom the beginning of seeing that new self, that new beating breathtaking heart emerge from inside. 

Blossom is a word for the fragrance of new life. 

Blossom is a word to swallow deep and nurture.

Blossom is a word for joy at the beginning of things


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Poem for Your Tuesday Evening.

I miss the home of Italy today - those cobbled together streets and narrow houses and especially the feeling that you might stumble upon the most beautiful moment everywhere.

Today I got the chance to talk about one of the things I love to talk about most: poetry. If you spend much time around me, before too long poetry will emerge. I love to soak in the words of Auden and Frost, to listen as Anne Sexton talks to Mary Oliver and the two of them roll the words of Pablo Neruda around too. 

The truest poets are always talking to each other.

And so I wanted to offer two poems for you to muse over your cup of hot chocolate tonight, your decaffeinated tea, or maybe that nice glass of Riesling you've been saving for a windy and cold night like tonight. 

Lisel Mueller wrote this one. She is one of those poets, those people, who seems to sit her words down in the world and teach them how to tell the story she sees. And after moments of seeing Fra Angelico's "Annunciation"and then Botticelli's in the Uffizi galleries in Florence, this idea, this annunciation, appears and reappears in my thoughts. She cherishes words well. Couldn't we learn to cherish words too? 

The Annunciation (Lisel Mueller)

Dusk was the angel, as she sat under
the gray stone arch, feeling tender

towards the creatures of evening: rabbit and plover
coming to drink from her jug, never

before so tame. The sun had dropped to its burrow
behind the hill, and the narrow

virgin body of iris withdrawn in its sheath,
though roses were still spread beneath,

the love of bees. The patient jaws of silence
swallowed stray noises, and distance,

like dreams and water, retreated beyond itself,
learning her marginless, half-

willing to run from the hovering mystery
(thieflike in shadow, til she

should say, approach and enter into my mind). 
Dusk was the angel. She found

her courage and bid him deliver the word
gently, gently. But when she heard

the rush of his wings, she cried, God, God,
at the encroaching sky, and the child

in her womb was made quick at the name.
Then she knew all. The angel went as he came.


And then, because it is good to share the poetic thoughts that emerge in ourselves as well, here is a little something I wrote while looking at this beautiful painting hidden in the heart of Italy:
Annunciation Botticelli

Annunciation (Hilary Sherratt)

We are so small, Mary and I.
My shadow leaks on the hem of her robe.
We watch the violent arrival, the clatter of wings and angel.
Air, cold, flickers across our faces.

Her arms stretch down to touch the flame.
The landing shakes the earth,
I shudder in my coat as I feel his weight hit ground.

Dimensions are irrelevant now,
the ordinary perspective and frame,
paint dripped on canvas begins to breathe -
blasted from the gilded confinement by the question
the Logos spoken.

She already says yes. I see it
form in her mouth and reach out to touch it
in her wary palms. She does not run.
I hear the question and scamper,
never ready, never sure, my shadow fluttering like a moth
against the steadiness of her shape.

God's annunciation arrives
quick and she is already saying yes.
My small body pressed close to the frozen moment,
I creak out a whisper, Me, too. 

Hilary (who loves poetry)

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Love Tastes Like (Isn't it so good?)

I'm scrunched up on my half of the couch in BFC&T (pronounced "bifcat" by the locals). My worn grey Uggs dangle over the edge of the faded and cracked leather and my arms flutter jovially through the air. I have the look of intensity, the one I can always tell I'm wearing because my face muscles tighten in new places and I can feel the creases etched between my eyebrows. We're in the midst of a discussion about families and friendship and the meaning of that word nurture that rolls of our tongues and lingers in the air. We're in the middle of a discussion that wanders from serious to laughter to sobering to the funniest-moment-I've-had-all-week.

This friendship is the fullness of love.

Today is Valentine's Day. Conventional wisdom tells me to buy myself some consolation chocolate. I'm single, as I have been for the past 20 Valentine's Days, and I no longer anxiously anticipate a Cars or Monster Truck paper valentine stuck together with a heart shaped sticker from the boy in 4th grade I have my prepubescent eyes on. I'm single, and there are no singing telegrams, no spontaneous flowers arriving at my door, not even the smidgen of romcom. I am not Ginnifer Goodwin in He's Just Not That Into You (repeat, Hilary, repeat: You are NOT the exception. You are the rule!).

And I'm tempted to be upset by this and to wish that it was different. But you know what?

My life is full.

My life has more love in it than I ever thought I would learn to see.

My life is not missing any magic potions, romantic novels, bouquets of peonies (I love the white ones with their fiery pink centers). My life lacks no chocolate boxes, no well wrapped gift boxes, no ring boxes.

We teach ourselves to measure lack. We teach ourselves to count the ways that others are being loved today, count the arms-around-each-other-in-the-cafeteria, the lounge cuddlers, the teetering pile of presents. We teach ourselves to look at our hands and quickly look away at someone else's hands and say - there's nothing in mine

But love tastes like the coffee of the day in BFC&T. Love tastes like the big bear hug your dad likes to give you while you're pouring hot water out of the kettle just to make the two of you a cup of tea (just because, you know. Just because drinking tea with your British father is a good thing). Love tastes like watchful eyes surveying you over cafeteria pad thai, over the round office table that has the permanent imprint of your frustrated hands (But I don't want to learn that lesson!).

These images and smells and tastes of love fill me up to the brim and then even more, so that when I look down at my hands today, expecting the empty, expecting this hand not held by a sweaty boy's hand, expecting no engagement ring, no promise ring, no pre-promise ring, no, Ring-pop-cute-first-date ring... I look down and I see all this love.

I am nobody's "exception" this Valentine's Day. I am not a spouse, a girlfriend, or the typical roles we associate with the holiday.

But I think I have more than enough love to last me clear through five hundred Valentine's Days. 

If you are single and reading this, or married and reading this, or if you are 42 or 24 or 84 or 48 or any other configuration of numbers - what does love taste like to you? Comment below - let's tell that story.

Love this Valentine's Day.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Beginning to {Dare} (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo invited me to write about my week in just five minutes!

The dare is rich in my bones this week, that dare of gratitude for small things. I keep a list now, and today this is what I wrote:

Thank you for the fresh cold of faces just in from February. Thank you for that feeling of wind on cheekbones, and the feeling of glowing.

I feel glowing this week - walking through brisk winds and bright suns, amid the ideas of great people and the love of many friends. I feel glowing with the promise of what we see when we pay attention. How we see that someone's eyes get really bright, wide and full of wonder when they start talking about the difficulty of understanding where meaning comes from. The way that her warm smile is the first thing that makes peace in a room, and how she wraps you up tight in her sweatshirt arms. How when you walk by an icicle dangling from the side of a building you think, At the right angle that could be a stunning picture... I wonder... and immediately you are composing the shot in your mind. Or when your fingers start to type quick and nimble on their keyboard because the idea is just bursting out of you and you can't not write, you can't not frame the whole thing in beautiful words.

I feel full this week, belly-full of thankfulness and this uncontainable smile keeps creeping up onto my face and I lie in bed wriggling my toes in the morning because I can feel it - God is good. This week has been all Christmas - all full of gifts He keeps giving like the more room I make in my heart the more He can put there.

And I sometimes felt paralyzed this week, the doubt creeping around like a thief in the night. Could God really be giving me all these good things? Is this too good to be real?

And then I hear His voice, strong and rich and golden like Aslan's and His reprimand rings clear: It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

We ask for such little, trivial things when all along the big gift is waiting for us, the big gift that begins in a mustard seed, in a womb, in the small timid "yes" that Mary says to the angel.

Yes, yes, yes. Yes to the big gift I can't contain but that I can enter. Yes to the joy rich and overwhelming, yes to the glow, yes to winds rustling through the branches of my heart.

This is a week of the new dare: {the dare of yes.}


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Silk (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. After all, I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish good words. I'd like to start sharing some of them with you on this blog. 

Word for Today: Silk

Definition: This one seems deceptively simple, friends. After all, silk is a thing, not an adjective. The dictionary proclaims that it is a fine material made from spinning together strands from silkworm larvae, from the cocoons they spin and spin in their small bodies.

Silk, noun. The look of the babbling River Cary as it flows behind the house, the home of England.

I am six or perhaps seven, my small feet tromping through the mud of sheep fields, my skirt (which I staunchly refuse to trade for more practical little-girl blue jeans) bounces around my knobby knees. I have short blond hair in this story - and a smile that bursts from my face with all the energy of being in my favorite country. This is the year where I proclaim that I am half English and half Indian-ian (my mother hails from Hammond), and English air tastes fresh and clear.

Dad plays pooh-sticks with me. We drop broken bits of tree branches on one side of the little lane bridge, and we mock race to the other side. Laughing, we find my branch caught between two rocks on the other side while Dad's moves right along with the current. The water is so smooth and clear I can screech with all my energy: Look Dad! I can see moss on the rocks! The water is silk smooth and the memory is, too.

Silk, noun. The feeling of butter that's partly melted on your best friend's loaf of homemade bread, the bread that you watched her knead up to her elbows while you peeled peaches for a pie, in heat of summer. It's the taste of that butter running over your tongue and down the back of your throat, mingled with the taste of the warmth of the oven. My best friend, she cuts each piece in half so that we're always sharing it, breaking the bread together and letting the crumbs scatter on the smooth wooden counter. We slide the pie into the oven and wait for it to bake while we bask in each other's words and silence. Silk is this summer moment.

Silk, noun. Playing dress up in Mom's bridesmaid dresses when I was 13. Her teal silk gown was my special favorite, imagining myself the princess of The Princess Diaries and the heroine of some classic English novel, where I would always be dressed in silk and lace and have fans and feathers and silly flirtations. I would slip into the dress in the attic and hoist the too-long skirt up so that I could walk around in what I thought was an elegant way, trying out these words graceful and poised and elegant. I wanted to be grown up - silk is a grown up's word.

Silk, noun. A word to make poems with, to link to the other good "s" words like soft, hushed, smooth.

It's a word to describe unexpected things, a word to use because it is three-dimensional and you can feel it between your fingers and toes, run it along your cheek. You can taste and see it. The word becomes real and helps make the moment real. And isn't that, really, what we need words to help us do? We need them to help make reality real for us, anchor it in letters and sounds and onto the paper so that we remember, so that we bring those moments into our present. Silk is one of those words that is both noun, and adjective, and makes those moments of pooh-sticks and bread baking and dress up real. Silk is a word about real.


Monday, February 7, 2011

So {This} is the Dare - Giving {Thanks}

Today Ann Voskamp had some words for me. They were deep and harsh and clear, like geese flying high in Mary Oliver's "clean, blue air." Not easily misread or mistaken. Not words for me to twist into relativity, squirrel away in a closet with moth-eaten suit jackets. Not comforting, indulgent, or even remotely... easy.

I cracked open the cover at 7:22am because I didn't want to read the other book, that tome of moral philosophy that peers at me in an insistent, unrepentant way. I smoothed my hand over the hands holding the bird's nest and the too-blue eggs, wallowing in the sameness of here and the difference of me. My insides have been squirming ever since I got back, restless for the manna, for the good bread. I have been typing and typing in the text box of this blog, hoping that the words I put on the page make it real, this return, this being in limbo. And so this morning, I peek inside the warm pages.

There it is.


I forgot that part. That part of joy that makes it breathe inside us, that grabs our hearts, that looks us straight in the eye, and dares the incredible. That word, thanks, that says transform. Don't wallow. Don't mope. Don't sing a song of complaint to the Lord.

What have I been doing all this time? Singing a song of complaint. Yes Lord, I whisper to the corner of the seat cushion when I muffle my head in blankets and the special shirt that still smells like Mom and childhood. Yes, I know You're good and everything, but why are we here? Why do You make it so hard? Can't You just give me, just make me, just be a little more... 

Ann is stern with me, me and herself too, and she says it loud so I can hear it: "I've been living the no." The no it's not good enough no. The no I want more than this no. The no why can't things always be the way that I say they should be, why can't I get the joy I got before and the closeness with You and the feeling of Your presence and the daily manna from heaven?

That's the no I've been living these past few weeks - my heart sometimes yelling out gratitude and then sinking back into, But Lord, if You could just give me... I hear the dare loud and consistent and grating against my folded arms and determined serious line of a mouth.

{What if, today, and every day, you yelled out gratitude?}

It's the dare of thank you, the dare of thank you for here. The dare of thank you for this snow on the ground and the smell of coffee as I trudge (and yes Lord, for a word like trudge so beautifully sounding like the crunching of feet on snow) to class. The dare of thank you for babysitter art tacked above my bed and the scrawled sparkle heart that proclaims sticky fingered love. The dare of thank you for sky.  

I bought the book weeks ago and I looked at it, not in it. It sat on my makeshift nightstand table amid Grammaire Français and Come Away, My Beloved devotionals I still need to discipline myself to read. But this morning I found it and I couldn't look anywhere but inside it. And there He is, His voice in her pen, saying, it's {here}, here, here and here.

And so I sing it out in my own blue-black ink in the soft covers of Italian notebook from that last night in Rome, my hands feeling their way around those familiar DC words.

Sing it with me: Hallelujah, Grace like rain, falls down on me. Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, they're washed away... 

(thank you, Sam and Hannah, for this picture)
Love, and you, you who sit and read this in your home, on your iPad or your phone or your computer between vacuuming or teaching or writing a brief or researching or fingerpainting? Thank you. Thank you. 


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sometimes, I Revisit High School (And Look What I Find!)

Today is full of the quiet of snow.

Sometimes, in the moments when I am desperately procrastinating finishing the summary, the reading, the outline of the paper... moments when I am tucked into fleece and sweatshirt with the grey cat on my right and the black dog snoozing in his chair, I go back to high school.

I read backwards, searching the folder hidden in my computer called "Waring Work... I just had to keep." I creep up our rickety stairs and peer into the smudged penciled calculus tests, physics problem sets, and the drafts of essays with Charles' most honest criticisms in their customary bleeding black ink. I crouch down onto the floor of my room, surrounded by the words of wise editors and critics, peers who challenged this and that thesis, my interpretation of Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. I swim for a few stolen moments in the place where I learned: it's about the writing, not the grade. It's about the words, not the big definitive strokes and the circle at the top of the page. It's about that moment, when you emerge, sweaty and triumphant from your tenth revision of the same poem with the right word - flushed - and all you know now is that the poem is better.

So I bask in the loving, correcting words of my teachers, my friends and fellow students, the ones who taught me that the point of learning, the real reason we read and write and sing and do calculus and speak en français and memorize lines - it's because the moment of the right word is the real victory, not the grade. I've lived in college for close to three years now, and it's high school that taught me how to love to learn, how to travel through this country asking what it means to be an American of the people we met on the street. My high school that journeyed me from poetry-disdainer to lover of words. Waring that taught me to breathe in the deep smells of Provençal lavender and write it down, never stop remembering and bringing it into life here.

The moment when you stand in front of an audience and say that quivering question - "Oh Edward, don't you see? It was me at the ball that night! Me in that gown of smoke and spider's web!" You are more beautiful, more Cinderella, than you've ever been before in your whole life.

It's the moment when you dream of something infinitely larger than a small red "A." It's the moment when you realize that what you want, at the end of the day, is to understand how to modulate your voice according to the arrangement of "Every Breath You Take" that the ever-talented Tim has arranged for your merry band of warblers.

 It's the moment when your bookshelves are full of the story of what you've learned - your story, right there in the dusty shelves and the questions and your heart is there too, your curious mind, you love of Dostoevsky with your love of Anne Sexton with Jonathan Kozol.

And after all, you are a traveler, and you have been taught how to see landscapes: how to remember the myths and the legends, how to look with the eyes of your heart at a place. (Thanks, Lisa-Jo, for these words that break my heart with how true they are). 

(photo credit: Clare Stanton, 2006)

You can see Campobello Island, you can see Paris, you can see Rowley. You can see the landscape of your friend's hearts and hear their stories and echo back to them those right words that were the point after all. You can pour love into your learning. 
(Photo Credit: Clare Stanton, 2006)

Sometimes, I go back to high school, and I remember the moments when I learned because it gave life, because the word was supposed to be "flushed" not "beaming," because the problem set about gravitational force mattered in the biggest way.

This year, I am going to replant myself in the heart of that girl who loved learning like that. I am going to seek the right words, the solution to the calculus problem, the short story that is just bursting to come out of me.

I am going swimming this year in the overwhelming, rich and joyful world of learning to love learning again, not for grades or approval, not for resumes or cover letters - but because it is bursting with light. 

Won't you come sit on a bench with me, our feet propped up in their bright shoes, our arms and minds and hearts beaming with ideas, and learn to love learning again, too?


Friday, February 4, 2011

Dear Hilary (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo challenged me to write a post about the best piece of mail I received this week in just five minutes!

It's a midnight email, the one I don't receive until the next day at work with my hair all stringy and straight from needing to be washed again, the one that just starts with "Hi love!" and there it is: the best thing. She loves me.

She is my Uganda journeyer, the one who ventured beyond the bounds of our campus this spring into a land of red dirt and wonder, of hot sun and rice and beans and instant coffee, of stories of Ugandan Christian University students.

She is the one who writes love into every typed word from the land of rolling blackouts and no internet. She writes love, and I feel her fingers clack their way across the keyboard and find that piece, that piece of my heart that was just missing today. That piece that left on some early morning plane to another place, and she knows. She doesn't even need to ask.

She just writes love. She just finds the piece of my heart I couldn't find today and holds it out: here, Hil. I can hear her voice in her words. I can hear it in how she wants to know about life now, life here in this smaller place, life in my moment of just needing something, a taste of cappuccinos together in the red booth with the cracked leather and duct tape of the Atomic. She calls me love, and friend, and reminds me that all this? All this glorious hardness of being home in a place I don't know how to call home anymore, all this struggling to see myself bright and cheerful in the midst of winter, all this exuberance, all this living, is what she wants to know about.

She is my coffee beans and sunburn friend, my farmer lover of the land friend, my silence is just about as golden as talking together friend, my friend who can hear me breathe on the phone and know just what is going on in my insides.

And so she knows, in that midnight email from far away, in that special black and white shaped moment, bounded by the keystrokes of consonants and silent sounds, that I need to hear love. She spells it big in my heart: L. O. V. E. periods marking the places where I should stop and listen to it. Listen to her tell me - Hilary, I love you. 

She catches my eye in the bleariness of Monday morning and then the best thing - she catches my heart and helps me put it back together.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Ephemeral (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. After all, I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish good words. I'd like to start sharing some of them with you on this blog. 

Word for Today: Ephemeral

Definition: According to the dictionary we need words about time - being short-lived, lasting only a moment, temporary. We need words that say - "it will only be here for a little bit, and then it will disappear."

Some of my definitions:

Ephemeral, adjective. The first moment that you step outside into windy winter, your hair plastered to the neck of your jacket, your hands neatly tucked into their coat pockets and you survey the world: fresh-faced and dusted with snow.

Ephemeral, adjective. The word for the moment when you see someone you've been waiting to see for weeks, and you are simply... lit. You glow, incandescent, beaming out light. The word for the moment you run forward and throw your arms in a big bear-hug around the person and hold on tight, an extra second of love squeezed into your arms.

(Mandie... too beautiful not to share)
Ephemeral, adjective. The word for that music you hear when there isn't anything playing, no noise blasting from your computer or your stereo or the conversation next to you. The word for that violin solo that lingers just one second after all has been hushed. Can you hear it?

Ephemeral, adjective. The word for the quick, quiet smile, almost hidden but not quite, when you look at the most beautiful finger painting from the two year old with her stringy blond hair, the look between mothers and daughters that catches us all breathless.

Ephemeral, adjective. The word that grates against what we wish life could be: endless cycles of cupcake eating adventures and late nights around a kitchen table, fall weather in Lincoln Park as you and your friend laugh right into the camera, unafraid of tossing leaves in the air with that mischievous grin.

We wish it wasn't fleeting - all this living. We wish for anything but the ephemeral. We wish for the endless.

... and we are promised eternity. But maybe, just maybe, we can't know what eternity might be until we look at the gift of ephemeral. Maybe we can't hear God say, "Behold I am with you always, to the end of the age"(Matthew 28.20) until we hear all those moments that pass us by, all those beautiful, fleeting moments of new ideas and unread books and hot chocolate with whipped cream and oven baked chicken with your girlfriends and hugging friends and kissing spouses and rocking children to sleep, writing the last line of a story and putting music onto paper.

And so I say too:

Ephemeral, adjective. The word that God loves to defy - for He is with us always.



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