Sunday, July 31, 2011

The answer is yes (a post on a follow up question)

I wrote a post this week about being single. It's a tricky thing to write about because it involves head and heart, because it is about God and me and me and guys, it is messy and confusing.

But I discovered in the midst of writing the blog post, and struggling to know what else I might want to say about it, that there is a question that often accompanies the question about dating, that maybe you are wondering, too.
(Photo: Hannah Cochran)
The scene: I'm standing in front of the mirror getting dressed for dinner. It is our last night at this conference in Baltimore and we are supposed to dress in our finest - jackets and ties or the appropriate equivalent (and I don't know what that means, exactly). I turn on the music and pull my green skirt up over the grey lace top - the pieces of the DC Thanksgiving I spent with Hannah at the JCrew in Georgetown and Pentagon City Mall - and turn toward the mirror to put on some makeup.

And a question looks back at me as my hands hover between my eyelids and the sparkly green eyeshadow. Am I worth it?

I make small circles of shadow across my eyelids and feel my lashes flutter against my palm. I don't quite know why I'm putting on makeup, since I gave it up back in March, but the familiar ritual is comforting in the face of that question. I keep getting ready, pull down my lower lids to scrape an eyeliner pencil across them, blink twice, fluff my hair, and stare into the reflection.
(Mandie Sodoma, sindisiwe photography)

I might as well take a lipstick and write, "Am I beautiful?" over the whole week. I see the question in the eyes of the guys I meet, and the girls I meet, in light of the hot July sun and the cool shade of the bench by the bay. I think about it when I stare at my feet in my new Toms shoes or I catch a glimpse in the one-way mirror of the door that opens to the rooftop balcony of our hotel. And I think to myself, will my eyes ever catch up with what my heart hopes is true?

Maybe you wonder about this question, too. Whether you are single or married or dating or even somewhere you aren't sure about - maybe you get ready for a dinner party and look quizzically at yourself. And you hear the question - am I beautiful? am I worth it? from the far corner of the room.

If you are looking for the answer, if you (like me) search deep in forgotten newspaper piles and magazine covers, if you wander unkempt garden paths barefoot, if you close your eyes and exhale and peer around the corner... it's yes.


It's not a "yes" because he looked at you for an extra thirty seconds over his dripping water glass or he winked at you when he passed you the butter. Not because she responded to your email in only a day and it was full of the most interesting questions. Not because another person tells you they are jealous of your... {fill in the blank}. Not because they kiss you. Not even if they grab your hand walking down the beach late one summer night and you think, this is it, or they see you from two or two thousand miles away and say they just can't stop thinking about you.

It's yes, you are beautiful because you were courageous enough to ask a question in class. Because you listened without thought to time or to-do list to a person who needed you. Because you held out your hand with a small winged prayer you didn't believe He could hear. Because you laugh. Because you hear it: the wild call to live now, to run barefoot, to eat gelato, to stare into the eyes of an icon of the Mother and Child, to write the stories inside you.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14.27)

So, if you asked this week, or on this Sunday morning, for the answer to that question, if you looked for it behind aviator sunglasses and wine and running?



Friday, July 29, 2011

Still I trust you (a five minute post)

Lisa-Jo says, it's Friday! And on Fridays we all write, our words free, five minutes of paintings pictures and laughing and celebrating writing, without worries or edits. Won't you come join us, and let your words be free, too? This week the prompt is still. 

The water ripples at the touch of the duck feet and their furious paddling. They form a V to match their distant cousins who soon will take to the skies, crying their loud homeward cries and veering towards home. I sit still, my hands cupped around my phone, my feet in their new shoes dangling in front of me.

And I look at the harbor glimmering and the small shadow of me, and I think... Do you remember me? The question ripples like the ducks on the water and dips into my stomach and I tell Hannah, that in the end I ask Him, look Him in the face of this world - the cup of gelato dripping onto my hand and the sun's heavy hand on my skin and the people who color my life beautiful and rare, who tell me in their own way that to be still, and to still be still after all the silence seems full of nothing, is the only way forward.

And when I stand there in my dress and my new shoes and small shadow, and the bucket full of questions my heart keeps lugging around, I hear the reminder to be still, and be of good courage.

Because I still want nothing but to find Him. I still trust that this is all goodness, the mystery of provision and manna, the wonder of waiting. I still believe in Him though my questions roll on like storms and my eyes strain the horizon and my heart skips. I still go back, scraping up the slippery side of the mountain like the son, veering home like geese on the wing, like the ducks in the harbor back to their nest.

I still come home to Him. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A post about being single (after much time has gone by)

When my mentor called me in Washington, DC one night before my roommates and I went to eat barbeque ribs and beans and rice at the place down the street, she told me that she thought my posts about being single weren't from the quiet place. And that, honestly? I sounded a little obsessed about it. 

I bristled at once, and told her that I was NOT being obsessed and I was NOT thinking from a loud place or a semi-noisy place I was just writing what I wanted to write. I hung up the phone in a huff and pouted all the way through my mac n' cheese side dish at our kitchen table. But she was right. 

Those blog posts: The Last Christian Man (a myth you shouldn't believe), Single and Annoyed, Impatiently Waiting to Become Patient ... they all express something honest. They tell you a story of how I was wandering through being single and wondering about what it meant. And they're funny, and they make me laugh to remember the conversations that preceded them and my mischievous smile as I planned one great angsty metaphor and witty zinger after another. 

When I realized that my mentor was right, that the posts were honest, but not true, I took a break from writing about being single. I took a break from the snarky comments, the exasperated verbal sighs, and I talked and explored and wrote about other things. 

But I have been asked a few times this week if I'm dating anyone. And when I smile, and I shake my head, and I say, "No," and they ask, "Have you?" and I say, "No, never," the conversation moves on but I don't. Does it make any difference that my answer is "no, never"? In that small moment, when they say, "Oh, really?" and I can't tell if it's sympathy, or bewilderment, or a nonchalant remark designed to move the conversation on - what's happening in the crawl space between my head and my heart? 

I'm wondering if. I'm wondering when. I'm smiling and feeling my voice grow smaller as I silently finish the story for myself: it may never happen, and shouldn't I be content and dwell here and be pleased and love my life, just as it is? And why do I feel disappointed by my answer, when there is so much fullness everywhere I look? 
(Mandie Sodoma, sindisiwe photography)

The hard truth is that it's easier to be jealous and upset than to be trusting. It's easier to say, "I don't know that anyone is going to see me like that," than to say, "I trust God with this piece, too." Maybe it's because these questions feel tied to being beautiful, to being noticed in a way that can't be replicated by friends or family. Maybe it's about not knowing how to hold a desire unfulfilled in your hands without worrying or doubting. 

I don't have answers, and I don't have contentment (not yet, in any case). But the thought I offer to you, and to myself, in the midst of that "No, never" answer is this: 

That answer has been a part of the becoming, too. That answer that you wish you could change, that you long to sweep off the table forever, is an inextricable and beautiful part of the story of you, the questions you asked, how you heard Him say, "wait.," and everything He taught you about Himself. 

He didn't forget that your answer is, "No, never." And He didn't forget that it's a hard answer to hold, to reconcile with the dating couples and the wedding seasons and the blissful relationships you see around you. It is not lost on Him who gives all good things that you will see what He's giving others and want it for yourself. But He wants to teach us to love what we are given, and trust what is unseen, and place our hearts firmly in His hands. 
(Mandie Sodoma, sindisiwe photography)

We learn that in the deep, hard, patient, and beautiful answer of, "No, never."


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary (On Listening)

I tried this experiment in the month of May, when I wrote an advice column to myself. I asked the question (about dreaming) and tried to give an answer (it was incomplete). Today I'm wondering another question, and I wanted to share it with you. And of course, I'm inspired, constantly, it seems, by Dear Sugar's words of beauty and truth, truth that enters the room and sits there. And she inspires me, with the possibility of learning to listen to the quiet place and learning to live from it.

Dear Hilary,

I'm not a very good listener. I can hear everything fine, hear what my friends say, hear what my parents say, hear what various people want to see my life become and who they hope I am. I ask for advice about things - what to do about liking someone who doesn't like me back, what to do about graduate school or buying a new computer. But whenever I pray, I don't want to listen. I don't want to know what God thinks about what I'm doing or saying or what He thinks about... well, hardly anything. I know myself, I know what I want, and I don't want to listen to what He wants. And I have all these voices in my head already, from past expectations to teachers to my friends to my own beliefs to what I imagine God wants to potential consequences and... I just can't hear anything even if I was listening. I have a feeling this could spell trouble. What do I do?

Not Listening

Dear Not Listening,

A very wise and dear person once told me that there is this thing called "the quiet place." We named it that after she had been mentoring me for a little over a year. Every so often in the course of our time together she would wave her hand in front of my face and say, "that? that right there? that's the quiet place." And we would sit in silence as she nodded and I tried to figure out what about my lapse into defeated silence at the unanswerable nature of my questions equalled "the quiet place."

The truth is, this wise person wasn't talking about a place of no external noise. The quiet place isn't hundreds of miles into the desert or an abandoned forest or out in the middle of the ocean. The quiet place exists on a bustling Baltimore street or in the subway or in a crowded board room or while you are talking to your friends over sangria and mexican food. It's a place without internal noise. And it sounds to me like you are chock full of internal noise, love.

You have all of these words and sentences and thoughts and hopes spinning through your mind like tops set loose down a set of steps. They hop from one stair to the next randomly and without warning. A mind like that can't listen. A mind that's desperate to follow one train of thought to its conclusion (only to get rear-ended by another thought) is not able to listen. You are caught in all of these expectations and hopes... and you can't listen to any of them well.

So, love, what do you do? You go still. Like a bird on a telephone line, their hollow bones clutching firm to the swaying wire. They are still. Watch how they tilt their heads to taste the wind. Do that, too. Fold in your wings (you aren't ready to use them yet, anyway), and hold on to the wire and tilt your head to the wind. That's the quiet place. Where there is One voice, and He says, "I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth." Where there is One Person, and He says, "Come to me."

And as for listening but not listening, wanting what you want and believing that you know best, I can only tell you that what you want now is not what you will want tomorrow or the next day. The life you envision for yourself at this moment before the beginning is not the life you will end the day grateful for tomorrow. You said it before: spend your heart leaning on Him. Ask for daily bread. Ask for this day's work. Ask for help in this one small moment, when all you want more than anything is to find the right word for the swaying bird on the wire with his hollow bones and his bright eyes.

And then, love, when the rest has faded and you are in the quiet place, cup your hands around a mug of tea and remember, "man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deuteronomy 8.3).


Friday, July 22, 2011

All the fullness (a five minute post)

Lisa-Jo over at the Gypsy Mama asks us to write, no editing or worrying about if it's right, if we've chosen the perfect word or sentence... just to let our words shimmy out of us and into the world, bringing sunshine with them. Won't you join us? This week we're writing about "Full."

For as long as I've been in college full means too full. It means a heavy and loaded schedule that groans under the weight of classes and work and meetings and then the preparation for the meetings and where is the room for the dreaming? For the last minute spontaneous coffee dates with friends? Full has meant overwhelmingly full, achingly full, full of things to do and become. Full is the laundry list of responsibilities and full is the worrying sense of guilt that I'll do none of them perfectly and even that I'll forget something in the midst.

But something keeps shifting it for me, the definition slipping from my overachieving fingers back into what it wants to be. Now fullness means full of Him. Now fullness means a heart that overflows and expands to listen and love and guard the ones I love. Fullness means a head that spins with the images of the manna from Heaven:

the beads of condensation on a cold glass of iced tea
the laughter of a friend over dinner
the realization on a long trek of 6 miles that your body is a miracle
the yearning to finish the next page of the book because you can't put it down
becoming 21
listening to the sound of the fans breathing

And it is all manna and it is all goodness and if I just eat it, put my hands up to the sky and say thank you and eat, and trust that it's really good food... then fullness is a word about joy.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (a memory)

We sit hunched between air conditioning vents in the backseat, pillows propped under our arms, our thighs red from the sun at the park where we stopped for lunch in Iowa. Her bright red hair is pulled back in a ponytail and my stringy blondish-brownish hair hangs on either side of my face. We are each buried in a book, and there is another sitting between us. In the front, Mom, Dad and the boys are talking, or listening to the twentieth round of the Arthur CD, and watching the landscape rush by us. It's land like we've never seen before: hills and prairie grass and North Dakota.

But Abby and I don't see North Dakota. We miss South Dakota too, and probably some of Montana - that big sky country that whips the breath out of you when you see how vast the blue really is. We only catch glimpses when we're forced from the car for a picture, a lesson, a historical marker, a brother's need for a Coke and a snack and to stretch his legs.

We are in Santorini, Greece, and Bethesda, Maryland, in South Carolina and in Baja, California. We are wrapped in the lives of Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the girls who traveled far and wide and who had adventures of love and laughter and growing up.

We eat and sleep these books, waiting impatiently for the other person to finish so we can swap. We buy the third book, "Girls in Pants" as soon as it comes out that summer in a bookstore somewhere along the bright red line of our family roadtrip map. We read other things, talk to each other, listen to Sheryl Crow and eat Subway sandwiches outside in 101º in Nebraska on our way home. The summer is full of our family, full of our own sisterhood. The summer is me and Abby, in our teens, dreaming about who we'll become and what all of this living is all about, laughing and braiding hair and sleeping in the two person tent and eating macaroni & cheese & peas in the car with all the doors open because it is too hot to have a campfire and besides, none of us really like s'mores.

The miracle of being sisters with someone is that you read more than books together: you read each other, you read your hearts. You learn by doing, when to send a note or call again, when to let space between grow to make room for who each of you are, and who you're hoping to be. You learn through all of the late nights talking between the beds, and the nail polish spills on your carpet, and the disastrous haircuts you give your Barbie dolls (and each other), and up through conversations about falling in love and how to be a college students and what you're going to do after graduation. You learn that sisterhood is about more than those four girls sharing a pair of jeans. Being sisters is holding another person's heart in your heart for the whole of your life.

It's been seven years or so (maybe more) since we scrunched into the back seat of our van and read about how Lena fell in love with Kostos, how Bridget discovered her grandmother, how Carmen (who we'd never liked as much) learned to be an actress, how Tibby (who we'd also never liked as much, but who grew on us) reluctantly befriended Bailey and how Tibby became a filmmaker. And in those seven years my sister and I have been growing just like I imagined the characters would: into jobs, into college, into plans for the future and imagining getting married and having kids, into wanting to travel and explore the world.

Today I wanted to remember how rare and special it is to have a sister. And remember how those hot July days before the beginning of growing up have faded seamlessly into hot July days now, where the growing up is right in front of us, and all the love of all the 21 years of being sisters is there too.

Ann Brashares, the author who first wrote Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen into existence, published a new book about them. They are all older in the book - nearing 30 - and it follows the lives we all were left imagining at the end of the series. I bought the book because it seemed written to remind me of that summer of reading with Abby in the backseat. It seemed written to remind me that being a sister, and having one, is among the most treasured gifts.


Monday, July 18, 2011

A Letter for my 21 year old self

Today I'm 21. And I woke up in the quiet almost-morning, stretching my limbs to the skies, and I thought to myself, "Today, I'm 21. There it is." Age and time arrive and depart gently, and suddenly, and somehow we grasp at words and hugs and bright grins and laughter and well wishes, as we ponder the reality that day becomes night and fall sinks into winter and my twelve year old self who hid away for hours in her room with books, lost in the world of Narnia and Watership Down and the Wind in the Willows... she has become this twenty-one year old self, who keeps a blog and dreams of making her heart a home for the stories we all carry in us. How did that happen, I want to ask myself? And what will this year hold? And what kind of beautiful, wild life might I grow?
(Thank you, Mandie)
So I write, my own name and my own hand (no advice column today), and I write to remember and to promise and to wonder.

Dear Hilary,

You made it! You're 21, and for all the waiting and looking longingly at the wine list in restaurants, all the anticipation of being an adult, all the wonder about being a senior in college and then, so soon, a newly launched seedling in the world, you've arrived.

You're asking right now why God says "wait." You're asking how to hold the memory of harvest in your heart when the desert sand scratches against your feet. You're asking what it means, the choices we make, and how to choose wisely and well. You wonder, often, in the quiet corner of your heart you don't always admit exists, if you really are becoming what He wants you to become.

And so on July 18, your 21st birthday, remember a few things. Remember that what He wants is for you to become His, to be caught up in Him and in the adventure and work of obeying Him. Pray often.

Remember that beauty lies hidden in the small things, and that you have to go looking for it, seeking high and low in the hearts around you, in the moments of laughter outside on the porch and the familiar ache in your muscles as you finish mile 3 and veer towards home. Remember that nothing looks like the moon over the Atlantic.

The world is too beautiful to waste. Be careful, with your heart, with your words – both are easily broken, but both are also easily healed, if only you will listen closely and let the questions be questions, the days be days, and the love of God be the love of God. You are 21, at the beginning of becoming, and already in the midst of it, and what was it that Paul prayed?

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Read Rainer every day. Learn Italian. Fly up on the wings of anticipation even when you thud to the ground, because you are Anne of Green Gables and you will anticipate no matter what – so expect great things. But don't spend all your heart on the expectations of job, and career, and the progression of life as you wrote it years ago. Spend your heart on the hope that when you wake up tomorrow, you will obey better and love deeper. Spend your heart on the hope that by leaning into the wind and the wonder you will find His hands and His will and His love. Yes, that especially. Spend your heart leaning into the promise that He dwells in your heart and you will be filled. You will be full to overflowing.

So for now, I leave you with the good words from the writers you love:

“I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try and love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter 4)

"Love is the mystery of water and a star." - Pablo Neruda

"But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not."- John Steinbeck, East of Eden

"If I don't stand out like a star among the moons
if I am always late and he always backs away too soon
I walk the world with a skin so thin
I can wear no adequate protection
everything comes crashing in.
If I'm too wide open for this place
but not enough for him to recognize my face" - Deb Talan of The Weepies, "How Will He Find Me?"

And lastly, but not least, the question that rings true and beautiful in your life, from Mary Oliver (continue to love her poems): "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
(Thank you, Mandie)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Moonrise (an extraordinary moment)

The wind slapped the flag and the sides of the boat as we pulled into open water. The motor churned a spray of white foam against the black water and crowds of people lurched to the sides of the boat for one last look at Provincetown. They nestled further into mustard yellow cardigans and boyfriend's sweatshirts, pulled on crumpled windbreakers, and held out their cameras with both hands. One picture was never enough, it had to be four or five, adjusting the lighting and exposure, the sun tossing a few stray beams of light their way as it descended below the horizon.

We sat quiet, watchful, our knees pressed against our chests and our flipflops slipping against the edge of the bench. A group of men laughed about the lobster they'd eaten. A woman on her fourth gin & tonic danced with a stranger using his headphones as their DJ on the upper deck. A French couple in hiking socks and cargo shorts spread a towel over their knees to keep their legs warm. Somewhere behind us seagulls wailed and dived, and a little boy leaned over the side of the dock to grasp at a vision of the giant fish swimming underneath the surface of the water.

The day had been ordinary. A fast ferry ride to the edge of Cape Cod, an afternoon poking our heads through shop after shop of unaffordable sugar scrubs and cowboy boots and vintage jewelry, conversation that trailed off as we passed eager tourists in pink and green P-Town shirts. It was time together, for the two of us, remembering six years of learning the pattern of life. We scuffed our shoes along the planks of the dock, and felt the salty air against our cheekbones. We wondered, as we often had before, why life had brought us (or kept us) here, working the jobs we worked, living in our red and yellow houses, and we each whispered our dreams to the other: how I longed for the red line and a chai cupcake, how she wished her address was Downtown Crossing and the hum of the T. As we pulled on our sweatshirts it all felt ordinary.

On the boat we told a few stories, laughed and felt our smiles pinching the sides of our cheeks. My dimples always show when I laugh. Her eyes always squint when she laughs. So there we sat: two girls in the ordinary day, shoulders leaning one on another, on the outer deck of the ferry listening to the world.
And then the moon rose. 
It crept up red, dusting the Atlantic with its glow. It deepened in color as it rose, and the rest of the sky darkened in welcome. A few stars caught glimmers of the red and winked at us. The old man sitting next to me poked my shoulder and said, "Am I crazy, or is that the moon?" And there it was: red moon rising.

As we went on, it climbed faster, a thin gauze of cloud occasionally passing over its surface, which changed from deep red to amber to pale fiery white. It was full, and as it ascended it cut the surface of the water with its light. The glow made a path of light directly behind the spray from the boat, and as I watched, the path flickered with the movement of the waves.

In an ordinary day, a day of two girls wishing they were somewhere else, a day of Mexican food and gelato, and feeling the knarled wood of the pier under my feet, the moon rose red over the Atlantic.

And God whispered, "Had you forgotten Me?" 


A poem from Lisel Mueller called "Moon Fishing":

When the moon was full they came to the water.
some with pitchforks, some with rakes,
some with sieves and ladles,
and one with a silver cup.

And they fished til a traveler passed them and said,
to catch the moon you must let your women
spread their hair on the water --
even the wily moon will leap to that bobbing
net of shimmering threads,
gasp and flop till its silver scales
lie black and still at your feet."

And they fished with the hair of their women
till a traveler passed them and said,
do you think the moon is caught lightly,
with glitter and silk threads?
You must cut out your hearts and bait your hooks
with those dark animals;
what matter you lose your hearts to reel in your dream?"

And they fished with their tight, hot hearts
till a traveler passed them and said,
what good is the moon to a heartless man?
Put back your hearts and get on your knees
and drink as you never have,
until your throats are coated with silver
and your voices ring like bells."

And they fished with their lips and tongues
until the water was gone
and the moon had slipped away
in the soft, bottomless mud.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Your Life is Gorgeous

I have recently fallen in love with Lush. It's this organic, veggie-fruity-vegan-y, beautiful smelling soap and skin care store. I find every time I walk in the store I want to buy everything and use it all immediately. I want to use their Marilyn hair mask and their jasmine shower jelly and their rose soap and this "Dorothy" bubble bar that makes me want to sing Elphaba solos.

So when I was there a couple of weekends ago, I was trying out different moisturizers on the back of my hand. And they have this one called "Gorgeous." And it got me thinking about that word - gorgeous - and how rarely I used it. I carry a handful of words - pretty, lovely, beautiful, sweet - and toss them across other people's lives like Hansel and Gretel with their breadcrumbs. But when do I use the word gorgeous, with all of its weight and wonder? The other words are tired of carrying the same meanings, stretched thin over comments and in paragraphs where I can't think of a better word, or in letters to people far away. I keep using the same words to say the unique things: the thing I would say by reaching my hand across the cool ribbed surface of the Starbucks table and placing it in the crook of your elbow, and catching your eyes darting back and forth and smiling so widely that there wouldn't be a doubt in your mind that the only thing I wanted you to know was that you are important to me.

{And I want to fill this blog with good words}

It's my second post of the day (it just was one of those Fridays, as my friend Lauren would say), and I want to use the word gorgeous. I want to use it to punctuate the post and to capture moments in my butterfly net of a mind. I am turning 21 in a few days and the word gorgeous feels raw on my tongue. It tastes fresh and a little like key lime raspberry cupcake or maybe like mojitos with a hint of peach or maybe like I imagine that clean linen smell would taste like if it was a taste. How do I say it?

How do I say, your life is gorgeous, to the girl who stands makeup-less in front of the mirror? How do I say, you are gorgeous to her, with her strands of red-blonde hair escaping from her ponytail as she runs through the pounding rain? 

This girl prefers pencil skirts to jeans and would, if she thought she could, make a 30 hour day instead of a 24 hour one. She has tough lessons to learn about forgiveness and patience and peace, she dwells in stormy weather and she forgets, often, to hold her hands out and open to the gift of the world. And as I look at her and trace my hands over the contours of her face, I want to know, how do you pronounce the word gorgeous with enough certainty that this girl, who writes on a blog about a city she loves, about people who change her, about the joy of learning and dancing in your kitchen, will hear it.

If I were going to ask you a question, readers, it would be how to learn to be patient with my own life when it feels like I'm the tortoise and everyone else is the hare. When I'm still in the same place, and others are leaping forward to new cities and new jobs and relationships and schools and apartments, and I'm just where I am. How do I stop that voice in my head that says the measure of the gorgeousness of life is all of the things the other people in life are doing? 

And if I were going to tell you something, readers, it would be that your life is gorgeous. I can picture you reading this in between folding sheets or loading the dishwasher. I can picture you trying out the word "gorgeous" in front of your own mirror or while you're drinking a cappuccino or while you're brushing your teeth. I can see you scattered like oak seeds all over the place, thousands of miles apart, reading this and thinking, "nah, my life? it's pretty bland."

But it isn't. It is dazzling with moments of moons hung in the sky over the prairie (thank you, Gilead) and laughter over cups of iced tea and tickling five year old feet at the foot of the bed and visiting a good friend. It is all full to bursting with the life that is gift.

(Photo: Hannah Cochran)

Your life is gorgeous. 


The surprise gift (a five minute post)

(After the five minutes - I remember to say come join us over at The Gypsy Mama where we write words that fly free and beautiful like flags in the breeze! This week it's on loss...)

I hear her familiar intonation on the phone and I recognize in an instant that she's not here. The line crackles, a reminder in the midst of a hazy July evening that the moment to cry with her about her departure southward passed with rain and humidity and packing clothes to the sounds of The Plain White T's.

And I keep saying it's fine, all the way through the first part of the conversations where I can't imagine what her new house looks like and what fills her days and I hear her, and miss her, and all I can say is it's fine, it's fine...

But it's not, and I never write about it. I keep it tucked away, careful to look at it only in early morning light when I open my eyes to the ceiling and listen to the silence before the day knocks on my door. I hear it {the loss, the missing} breathe next to me as I run through the surprise rainstorm. I run, and run, and run until I ache in places that I didn't know I had, and I keep asking God if this is really the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living or if this is just the harsh wind over a desert.

Last night, the moon perched above the rustling shadows of the trees. And I remembered that there is nothing beautiful like the moon in a summer sky. In an instant, in less than an instant, my heart leapt up to meet the surprise gift of the moon in the sky and my mother driving next to me and the promise that behold He is doing a new thing and behold He will bring us up into the land of the living and behold, behold the moon clinging to the clouds, the familiar smell of salt water rippling past you, the quivering beauty of what seems small.

And behold, though I hear the gravity of departure, though I hear loss, and I worry: He is doing a new thing. He is giving a new gift. And I want to open wide my self  to see it.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary (On the Discipline of Learning)

I tried this experiment in the month of May, when I wrote an advice column to myself. I asked the question (about dreaming) and tried to give an answer (it was incomplete). Today I'm wondering another question, and I wanted to share it with you. And of course, I'm inspired, constantly, it seems, by Dear Sugar's words of beauty and truth, truth that enters the room and sits there. And she inspires me, with the possibility of learning to listen to the quiet place and learning to live from it.

Dear Hilary,

Tell me a story about learning. Tell me about how and why and what the point is. I don't know why I study. I don't know why I read books about World War I and why I try to weave together Jacques Maritain and Reinhold Niebuhr. I don't know if I'll ever be able to understand what this is all about, these links I keep seeing between the Vatican and Italian politics and Catholic social thought and how the encyclicals were really so much more important that I ever thought they were. And what if I can't do it? What if I'm not smart enough, after all, to be a graduate student or to change the way a whole group of people think about religious and political history, or to teach other people about the things I think I know?

Tell me a story about learning?

I'm missing it

Dear I'm missing it,

It's the spring of my junior year of high school. I am in an adaptation of Cinderella. I am playing Cinderella, and I'm failing. Not miserably, exactly, but failing. The lines are stilted - word perfect from my ability to memorize, but they don't ache and dip and soar and build the story. And Holly, the director, calls STOP! She comes up to me and puts her face rightthisclose to my face. And she says, "Cinderella! Come on!" And she turns, acting out what she keeps hoping I'll do. She gets angry at Prince Albert standing there in his Burger King crown and his blue jeans. She looks out at the rows and rows of empty seats, wondering, looking for an answer written across the flicker of the faulty spotlight. She turns back to me, and says, "Again." I sigh, scuff my bare feet on the grey floor, feel the cold concrete in between my toes, and shake my hair behind my ears. I return to the foot of the stairs and look at Prince Albert with what I hope is a colder glare than before. We try again.

Again. And again. And again. We rehearse until I can screech my lines, until they've seeped into my blood and they are my words, my emotions. Until I have put enough of the art room charcoal on my face, enough twigs in my hair, and carried enough buckets of invisible water to be this girl. We rehearse until every movement is fluid and known, yet somehow miraculous too (because the joy of theater is partly this - that everything you practice becomes new every time you do it).

This is learning, sweetheart. In all its glory and all its repetition. The story of learning is the story of practicing asking questions and getting under the skin of the plays, the problems, and the web of ideas that tether us to everything from economic theory to the themes of the Renaissance to the importance of the 1930s Vatican in Catholic Social Thought. Learning is not about performance or achievement. No amount of degrees or plaques or carefully crafted opening paragraphs of a CV will make you a learner. No laundry list of published articles or book jacket covers or specializations or guest lecture invitations will do it, either. Learning is about moving towards horizons, pushing onward into unexplored territories, wandering in the parts of the past that catch you and the problems that can't let you go. Learning is me practicing screaming at the guy playing Prince Albert. Learning is you sitting in your classroom wherever you are asking, "Why am I doing this?" We're already in the midst of all of it. All the best of it. 

I never became a theater major. Sometimes I wonder why. I wonder why I didn't take that path and push that edge, push myself into that world. But learning is about being captivated by the possibility. Learning is slogging away at research and writing papers only two people read (you and your professor) and maybe not one other person ever reads it, but it doesn't matter because you followed the trail and it took you somewhere new, and you're changed because of it. And this is the point, though it's humble and seems small: you learn because the world offers itself to our imaginations and our observation, and it takes patience and time and practice to see it for what it is.

Learning needs discipline. Like learning lines and getting inside a character. Learning is practice, and challenge, and some days you'll go in circles and put your head on the pillow with nothing but questions. Lots of days and nights, in fact, years into the future. But the story is yours to write, love, and yours to create. You can fill chapters with what you learned about dating and marriage and loving another person. You can throw in lines throughout about why history matters (or environmental conservation or the German language). You can weave together in your life the hours of classrooms and exams with coffee dates and arguments.

So the only thing I can say about why you do it, why you study, why you are a student and a learner - because you've probably fallen in love with learning, and it has captured your heart, like Cinderella and theater and history captured me. Keep falling into love with learning. Keep practicing.

And then, write to me, and tell me the story.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do you eat cupcakes on sunny days?

So, dear friends, here we are on another gorgeous Sunday, a day of clear skies and the best breeze off the beloved Atlantic. A day when the sun's rays warm the back of your neck, your arms freckle slightly and you wonder about joy and laughter and life. And since I've been asking you, these last few weeks, if you sing ballads to your reflection and drift through a good book and stomp your way across the kitchen to "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz, I have another question for you:

Do you eat cupcakes on sunny days? 

I wrote about my cupcake adventures in DC, and to recount them briefly, by flavor and location, they look like this:

fresh peanut butter cup and red velvet, at Red Velvet (Gallery Place/Chinatown)
pretty bitchin' (peanut butter and fudge), fresh lemon & raspberry, and pumpkin spice, at Baked & Wired (Jefferson Ave, Georgetown)
apple caramel, pb fudge, at Georgetown Cupcakes (M St, Georgetown)
pink lemonade, at Hello! Cupcake (Dupont Circle)
blood orange dreamsicle, at Lavender Moon Cupcakery (Old Town Alexandria)

And I still dream and remember and adore those cupcakes. And I wrote to you all about the need to stop counting calories and instead remember that, in my own DC-infused words, "Food creates memories; calories create anxiety." So today, as a dear friend from that same semester and I strolled through Newburyport, the sun beaming down on us and our brief but beautiful reunion, we ate cupcakes.

Hers was M&M with chocolate drizzle; mine was lime with raspberry filling and key lime buttercream. We sat looking out at the harbor and our talk meandered through the afternoon as we sat there, dangling our feet, resting our busy and weary bodies, soaking up each other's presence.

Do you eat cupcakes on sunny days? Do you feed your heart with what it needs, time to be still and to laugh, to be comforted and challenged in the presence of someone you love? Have you paused today to lick frosting off of your palm and laugh at what a mess you're making, or to carefully fold up the empty wrapper like a piece of origami before throwing it away? Have you carved out a bit of time to eat a cupcake on a sunny day by the water?

There are moments when I think about my semester in the brick streets and corner cafés and office buildings of our nation's capital and I wish myself back there. There are moments when everything here feels like waiting, and nothing here feels like harvest. Where the soil seems shallow and rocky and dry and distracted, and I'm too busy and too overwhelmed and too frustrated and too impatient to bear witness to anything beautiful. There are moments when I look up from my desk at work and wonder when the time will come to see the fruit that I keep being told is growing. 

And as our priest said in her sermon today, "God does the deep work when things are difficult." God grows the best fruit in soil that endures, that waits, that hopes and perseveres. God grows things in us that we can't hear unless we are listening for the still, small voice to speak. God brings life and light out of what we do not think matters. And if we trust, especially when it feels impossible, when the voices in our heads tell us it will never work, we will never become...

God will make miracles appear like the stargazer lilies that blossomed when you weren't watching. 

And today, while I ate cupcakes and thought about God, while I wandered through Newburyport and wondered about all the questions in my heart and all the doubts about my future, I remembered that I already see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I remembered that I see Him growing trust, and patience, and prayer in me. I remembered that joy is gift, and it is ours to receive if we will make space in ourselves.

Eat cupcakes with me, on this sunny day, and let's revel in the deep work that he's doing.

And if you are craving the best flavors I can think of?

1. Blueberry & Lemon
2. Key Lime Pie (with graham cracker crust on the bottom and a key lime curd in the middle)
3. Peanut Butter & Jelly
4. Pink Grapefruit & Honey
5. Apple Pie

Love, from my cupcake-adoring heart,

Friday, July 8, 2011

I whisper thank you (A five minute post)

It's Friday again, and Lisa-Jo, all the way from South Africa, spins us words of truth and joy and love, and inspires and encourages us to do the same. Won't you join us, and write free and easy down the dirt road dancing to a song you're singing in your own heart? This week the topic is "grateful."

My voice is small on the phone this week, scrunching into a hiding place of uncertainty and wonder, feeling the weight of the words and the questions and the aches, the aches of the hard things. And I can hear her all the way from 21 St, NW, all the way from the beloved place we both know to be home, in our hearts and in our dusty shoes, as she leans towards me across cell phone towers and long pauses. "I'm sorry, love," she says, and I lean closer, my feet tucked up under me and I remember how we learned to write Rilke to each other in the miles between Massachusetts and Uganda. 

I remember how she would let me sit with thoughts too fragile to speak, holding my mug of chai as the days grew grey and cold last winter. 

I remember how we laughed until we cried in my room when I came home and how we walked through Davis Square with cupcakes and thrift stores and Sunshine Lucy's furniture and dreams of life built together in the midst of all that is beautiful about becoming. 

I remember in the smallness this week how she listens and loves and how she lets me lean, and how she opens her arms wide and from a thousand miles brings me right back into the home of her heart. 


Thursday, July 7, 2011

The New Dress (my first attempt at a short story)

Disclaimer, dear friends: I've never really written a short story before. But Preston, who blogs over at See Preston Blog inspired me with his Monday short stories to give it a try. Enjoy going on this writing adventure with me... (and we can see where the road takes us). Love, Hilary

The clock ticked its way towards 8:45, and Emma finished getting dressed quickly, grabbing earrings and splattering perfume on her wrists. She swept her hair off her neck, secured it with a rubber band and began to close the door, standing on her tiptoes as she peered back at the small apartment. The sun speckled the walls with the blue from her dress, and for a moment, she exhaled. The day wouldn’t be too long. There wouldn’t be too many files to pull together for the judge, who would be going on vacation on Friday. She walked out the door and listened until she heard the lock click.

It had been the first fight since the one at the funeral home three months ago, and worse. It had begun on the phone, and Noelle had promised she wanted to talk, not argue. “I don’t want an argument, Emma,” were the words, repeated at regular intervals, as if she was a metronome keeping time to the dip and soar of the conversation. I don’t want an argument, Emma. Now, let’s not get worked up over this. You don’t need to get emotional. Just think this through. As if Emma could get worked up anymore. For Emma, the world drizzled and shuddered. The pieces of her life had collapsed gently, almost apologetically, this last year.

The job had been a transfer, they told her last year, to the office where they might be able to benefit from her New York experience. And it would have benefits – lots of them, frequent trips back to the city if she needed, moving expenses paid, all of it. When they gave her the news in the break room, someone clapped, a heavy, thudding clap that died almost instantly. Everyone else looked up at Emma, and back at their mugs of swirling coffee, and rushed off to the next timed phone call. A legal assistant is a legal assistant, you know Emma, Michael had said as his thick knuckles grazed her shoulder jovially, whether they were outside Raleigh or inside Manhattan.

The breakup had really been a parting of ways, a mutual decision between friends over tears and wine and uneaten goodbye cheesecake in a battered box. Three weeks before she drove away from New York, and Peter made it quick and clean. He swept the mess of her heart into neat phrases: I just don’t see it working long distance, and you are lovely, Emma, and you’ll do amazing things, I promise. I don't deserve you, he said, with his triumphant smile (the one he wore when playing tennis) blazing briefly across his otherwise calm face. She had nodded then, sealing her mouth shut. A kiss on the cheek and the clatter of the fork back onto the mosaic table, and he was ghost. He left his books behind, and sent for them by bike messenger the next morning.

And the funeral had been an expectation, a passing of life to death, her father finally peaceful after eighty-eight years. They had gathered at the family home upstate, and held the service at the local funeral parlor. Emma and her brother, their mother, a few friendly and sympathetic neighbors, women from the church with their customary casseroles had called on them, and after a few days of wandering the caverns of her former home, smelling the books and not eating, she had driven back to her new home, some of her father’s clothes in the backseat. They had filled the car with the smell of wood chips and fertilizer, and she had cried silently for the hours of mile markers and truck exhaust.

That was three months ago, and she and Noelle hadn’t fought since, until this weekend. The fight had insisted on happening that weekend, when Emma called her brother. He worried, she knew, that she was lonely, or into trouble. She never quite knew what he worried she was doing outside Raleigh, but she never asked him. She just called, every Saturday, for the last three months. They leaned on each other’s habits like two old trees whose branches melt together after many years. After their father had died, they leaned a bit harder, and when Emma had moved to the South her brother insisted she call every weekend.

But he hadn’t been home, and Noelle had picked up the phone. Noelle and Brian had been married almost seven years now, and the fight began as every fight ever had with Emma. About dating. Noelle always knew a guy – from the grocery store, from the church Sunday School picnic, from the friend of a friend at Brian’s office downtown. “Move up here, Emma” it always began. “Don’t you want to be settled? Don’t you WANT a family?”

And Emma hardly ever responded. She shut off her voice, turned on a tape recorder of murmurs, and waited for the inevitable trailing off… “Emma, I only say this because I care about you.” At the cue, she would thank Noelle, and tell her that she’d think about, really, she would, and could she tell Brian Emma had called?

But Saturday night she had listened, really listened, for the first time, to what Noelle said. There were the usual questions, and she had begun to repeat her small syllables of “yes,” and “maybe” when she heard it. The same stinging words from the funeral home, the ones that scorched and twisted her insides like pipe cleaners, had surfaced twenty minutes in. Noelle, who was always worked up by Emma's silence, suddenly blazed. “Emma, why do you think Peter left?!” The longest pause. Noelle heard it, but she couldn’t stop herself. “You just won’t SAY anything! You’re so quiet! Don't you EVER say ANYTHING? Are you too GOOD for this? ALL we want for you is to be HAPPY! ALL we want for you is to find SOMEONE! WHY is that SO hard?!”

And Emma had erupted, brief and wild, like a sudden thunderstorm across the Carolina sky. One moment, there would be quiet blue, and the next, a roar that ripped the clouds and rain that pounded the windows until you couldn’t see through the sheets and sheets of rain. She screamed from her lungs, her hair, the gaping pit in the bottom of her stomach, the only sentence she could piece together. “HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT TO ME? HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT TO ME?"

The storm faded as quickly as it had come. Emma's hands shook as she cradled the phone to her ear, sitting on the edge of her white quilt. The flare was enough for Noelle, who surged ahead, reminding Emma to be rational and pull herself together, and that Brian and she wanted nothing but the best, the best, and shouldn’t she just come back up north? Wasn’t it time to stop thinking there was a life for her in North Carolina, and stop wasting her time with no prospects? Another twenty minutes, they hushed into the same routine. Emma asked Noelle to tell Brian she had called, and Noelle reminded her that they cared about her. And the phones had clicked off, and Emma had watched lightning bugs blink outside her window until she couldn’t stay awake.

So that Monday, she wandered through the routine of her dusty, collapsed life. She browsed the same section of the same Macy’s, the one off of the boulevard, and Jenny, the head salesperson in Dresses had been working the register. “Hi, Emma,” were the only words ever spoken and then Emma was left in peace. She only ever came to Dresses after a fight, and she never bought anything. She hadn’t bought a dress since moving, except the heavy black of the funeral, when she had gone wandering from store to store in New York, trying everything on twice or three times, just to be sure it looked right, asking opinions, sending blurry pictures to her sister-in-law and her friends.

After the funeral, she hadn’t bought a dress. She just went to run her hands through the stacks of silk and hold hangers up against her collarbone. Occasionally, when no one was looking, she put the hanger around her neck, and swung the dress from side to side in the long, slimming mirror, watching her calf muscles twitch from their years of ballet, and her smile widen as she forgot where she was and who she was.

So Jenny was surprised when Emma approached the register that Monday afternoon. Surprised, Jenny smiled when Emma brought it cradled in her arms to the register, and the shy voice (how many times had Jenny imagined what it sounded like?) echoing, “Can I try this one, do you think?” had surprised Emma herself.

Jenny took her back to the dressing room. It was all lines and corners, the carpet stiff from the twice daily vacuuming, sharp looking edges between stalls and a row of uncomfortable looking chairs outside each small curtained cubicle. Emma looked around, suddenly anxious. The dress felt heavy in her arms, and as she looked at it, it seemed too beautiful for her to wear. She tried to give it back to Jenny.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she almost whispered. “I… can’t try it on. I should really get back to work. My lunch hour is almost over.” But Jenny was firm.

“Emma, you have to try it on. It’s a perfect color for you. It’ll bring out those eyes of yours!” Jenny’s hand pushed her towards the closest dressing room. The red curtain swished back and Emma found herself looking into her own face.

It was a stranger.

“I really can’t. I really, really can’t. I can’t try it on.” She pushed against Jenny’s arms and, dropping the dress to the ground, backed out of the cubicle and sat down in one of the strangely shaped dressing room chairs. She sighed, staring at her feet as she moved them closer together and then farther apart, a small dance isolated in a corner of her body. Jenny waited. Emma reached down and picked the dress up off the ground.

“I can’t. I just…” The words tangled in her throat. Why was she trying to buy the dress? She didn’t buy dresses. She didn’t wear blue. She had goosebumps running up and down her legs as she sat in the chair, passing the dress between her fingers. It was a heady light blue, a full skirt that would fall just above her knees. The blue skirt gathered in a fan of pleats just above her belly button, and the top half of the dress was lace – three quarter length sleeves, a boat neck with just the hint of a ruffle. She’d never seen anything so beautiful. She held it in her hands, hearing it crinkle, reading the lace like Braille, retracing the stitches. She closed her eyes, remembering all the lace she had boxed up after the funeral, the lace that had once spilled out of her closet in New York, the dress from the first date with Peter (had it been blue, too?). She remembered lace. She remembered dresses. Jenny shifted her weight to her other hip, peering at Emma from behind heavy emerald eyeshadow.

“Honey?” Jenny paused. There was a low murmur of a customer or two browsing in the section and she could make out the sounds of dropped hangers and a grunt as someone shoved a dress back onto the sales rack. Jenny reached down and put one hand on Emma’s shoulder. Emma jerked away, looking up at the saleswoman, disbelief etched on her face. “Honey, why don’t you just sit tight, and I’ll be back to check on you in a few minutes? Could you do that?” Emma barely nodded. Jenny walked out of the room, glancing back the huddled figure in the chair.

Emma closed her eyes. What was she doing? She stood up to leave, and the dress unfolded from her lap. She held it out with both hands. The blue flashed in the three-way mirror at the end of the room and she walked toward it, holding the dress against her body. She looked at the dress just above her knees, followed its curves up and then looked at her face again. Her brown hair swung slightly from the air conditioner’s breeze, and her eyes flashed the same color of the dress. She pressed her feet into the carpet. Her shoulders shrugged toward the ground. The hanger fell to the ground by her feet, and before she could change her mind she slid the dress over her head, closing her eyes tightly. It won’t fit, she thought. It can’t fit. She hadn’t looked at its size or make, and she hadn’t worn a new dress since March. It won’t fit, she whispered. The dress settled around her waist and she exhaled again.

Someone gasped behind her. Emma swung around, her eyes opening wide to see Jenny, her measuring tape dragging across the floor behind her as she bounded towards Emma. “Oh, Emma!” Her words clattered to the floor. Jenny looked at her, eyes wide. Emma blinked at her and took a step back. She felt the cool mirror on either side of her.

“Oh, Emma! You look beautiful!” Jenny smiled, and bent down to pick up her measuring tape. “Why don’t you take a look? It fits you perfectly.”

“It… fits me?” Emma released the question. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes.” Jenny looked surprised. “Haven’t you looked?” Another small silence, and Emma looked at her bare feet. She shook her head.

Jenny smiled again, so gently, and took Emma’s hands in her large warm ones. “Emma,” she looked at Emma’s face. “Turn around. Take a look.” When Emma did not move, Jenny took her hands and guided her around, towards the mirror. Emma closed her eyes again. “Take a look at yourself.” Emma's mind whirled with what she would see: herself in a blue and lace dress, her own strange familiar face, and the remnants of the fights and its questions. She would see the boxes of lace dresses in her closet, the funeral home, Peter's retreating figure out of her door, the silence of the break room. She would see all the fervent casserole ladies praying that she would come up north and marry someone. She would see all their disappointment. 

Emma opened her eyes. 

"You look beautiful." Jenny smiled again and backed away from the mirror. Emma blinked. She twisted this way and that, checking for flaws, for a broken zipper or a ripped hem. She walked away from the mirror, then back towards it. 

"You look beautiful," she whispered. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary (Advice Again)

I tried this experiment in the month of May, when I wrote an advice column to myself. I asked the question (about dreaming) and tried to give an answer (it was incomplete). Today I'm wondering another question, and I wanted to share it with you. And of course, I'm inspired, constantly, it seems, by Dear Sugar's words of beauty and truth, truth that enters the room and sits there. And she inspires me, with the possibility of learning to listen to the quiet place and learning to live from it. 
So, here goes nothing:

Dear Hilary,

I went on a run the other day, and I got to a juncture in the road and I started wondering if God's forgotten about me. I mean, I'm standing in the road, wondering if I should continue up the hill and go over it, or take a left and go up a different hill, if my feet will carry me anywhere, or if I should turn around before it's too late, and the thought just enters my mind and it won't leave me alone. How long are you going to do this? I want to shout at Him. How long are you going to keep me waiting, and wondering, and becoming discouraged and resigning myself which really just means I hope harder and in a more secret place? How long are you going to make me feel like an idiot for believing that you want all the good things for me that I want, but don't have? And I want to believe that He cares, Hilary, I really do. But He feels far away, and I keep waiting, and I feel disappointed, and... by the end of the run I'm back to this place of wanting to hope for love, for becoming a writer and a scholar, for running a school, for having a family. And being afraid to.

What do I do? Has He forgotten me? 

Running (and Hoping)


Dear Running and Hoping, 

Psalm 27.13-14. Read it. I'll make it easy for you. I'll write it right here with you: "I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord." Now say it out loud with me: sound out those words. And then listen to the New King James Version of these same two verses: 

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
  That I would see the goodness of the LORD
 In the land of the living.
Wait on the LORD;
  Be of good courage,
    And He shall strengthen your heart;
       Wait, I say, on the LORD!

You are not the first person to admonish your heart to do something it did not want to do. In fact, I would bet you every word that's ever been written on this blog, and elsewhere, in fact, every word that's been written, period, that you are not the first person to ask your heart to be strong when it doesn't want to be. There are heaps of good stories and words about this very thing. But it doesn't change anything about what you have to do: you still have to ask your heart to be courageous and strong. You still have to teach it to hope, and believe, and love.

Now, as to why you wonder about whether you will wait forever, and hope in vain. There are people who will give you complicated answers to why you do not yet have the love you want, the career you imagine, and the family, and the ... it goes on. But it is simple. You do not have those things because it is not time for you to hold those things. You want them, yes, and you see others with them. And it's so tempting (like second tray of chocolates in the box tempting) to compare. Oh, you say, she has the boyfriend because she is... and that must mean I'm not... They got into this graduate school, and they're so much smarter... And this isn't happening because I messed this up, or I failed to do that...

And I want to tell you to stop doing that. It is a waste of time. You have one, only one, "wild and precious life" (Mary Oliver's word, not mine). You have one, only one, heart. Why would you squander it in comparisons, in the empty eyes of has and has not? And why should you waste it in fear that God has forgotten you, when He made the desires you feel so achingly, so poignantly? But He didn't make you for the desires. He made you for Himself. And that's what you have, have to overflowing: Him. He hasn't forgotten you, Hilary. Isn't it a great deal more likely that you forgot Him in the clamour of what you think He owes you?

So, love, listen to me: the goodness of the Lord is wider and broader and deeper and realer than the hopes you shelter and the disappointment you nurse. You are not disappointed by God's goodness or His love or His mindfulness of you. You are only disappointed by the timing you had imagined you deserved. Put that away. It is not yet time for these things to emerge, and it may never be. But what do those possible things have to do with the experience of God's goodness? How can your imagined life compare with the heavy weight of the real life He's giving you? 

Let some air flow over your skinned pride and your grazed elbows. And then get to your feet and go running towards the Cross. Because He is not far from you, and never has been. Do you remember on that run passing honeysuckle on a mailbox? Or hearing the birds shiver on their branches, calling out to their friends? Did you watch thunder threaten the horizon, and the wind twist flowers in lazy circles? Do you remember, as your feet pounded the dirt, or the gravel or the pavement, how the air burned your lungs and your heart beat and your head cleared, even if just for an instant? That's the life He gives you.

I would have lost heart, Running, many times, had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. And I do, when I open my eyes wide to look for it. 

Love, always, 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Do you sing to your mirror?

I've started this kind of impromptu weekly question on Sundays. I asked you if you danced in your kitchen, and if you lost yourself in a good book, and now I have another question. 

Do you sing to your mirror?

When I was in DC in October, I wrote a blog post about why we sing into hairbrushes, why we remember that we are here to be joyful and laughing. And at that time, the post was about that horizon question of boys, and dating, and what it means to be single or not, what it means to be dateable. Now, the post reads differently, and the part I wanted to remember today wasn't the part about dating, but rather just this image:

And if you are like me, you immediately begin to sing to your keyboard, your monitor, your room at large. You forget that you share a small apartment with four other girls who probably don't want to hear your off-key rendition of "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain or your garbled "Everybody" by Ingrid. You forget that you are NOT, in fact, the leader of the next great hip hop dance team and you cannot one-two step like Ciara. You believe for 3 minutes and 51 seconds that everyone is listening to you sing in pure awe and wonder.

Today, friends, I came home from church and I did just this. Yes, in my room that has no mirror. In my church dress, my bare feet tapping their way across the old floorboards, the world for a whole three minutes about nothing but the joy of dancing around my room singing at the top of my lungs. 

My siblings and parents must wonder what that stomping noise is, and why they can hear country music blasting from behind my door, and what in the world I am thinking while I do this. 

I want to make the story of my life be one more colored with joy than with frustration. And so, this is the image for today. Singing with abandon. When I wrote the post in DC I was discovering that being myself included things like singing to every song I know the words to (and some I don't) and having dance parties and reading books for hours on end. Being Hilary means scrunching my face up in laughter and jumping up and down and trying to open my heart, even when it's hard, to the good things lurking in every day. 
(my beautiful friend, Hannah and I in California!)

And so, I wanted to ask you: do you sing to your mirror? Do you let the bass guide your foot in time with the music and let your voice, tenor or alto or mezzo or somewhere between fly free? Do you laugh halfway through and start the youtube video over, just so you can have 3 more minutes of uninterrupted fun? Psalm 134 says, "Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who is the maker of heaven and earth." And I believe that part of praise is the unabashed seriousness of singing to your mirror, and the delight of good music, and the wonder that comes from making it. 
Sing to your mirror, to your floorboards and your scattered shoes, sing and dance your way through three minutes of joy. Because the Lord is the maker of heaven and earth and His goodness is everywhere, and we can hear it if we laugh and listen closer. 

Today, I sang the following:

Country Girl (Shake it for Me) - Luke Bryan
You Lie - The Band Perry
For Good - Kristin Chenoweth & Idina Menzel
Celui - Colonel Reyel
Just a Kiss - Lady Antebellum
Mean - Taylor Swift
Mountain and the Sea - Ingrid Michaelson

And many more are still in the playlist waiting for their turn!


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dear District of Columbia,

It's been a wandering semester and half-summer, hasn't it? You have grown, I'm sure, welcoming flocks of people to your monuments, to scuff new sneakers on the sidewalk of your gridded streets. I can see you, just soaking up the swell of summer tourists, beaming out the lights from the Monument over them, watchful and inviting.

I miss you. I whisper it laughing over homemade spring rolls at a dinner party; I pray it driving home from work; I listen to my own mind think it as I run through neighborhood after neighborhood, the long stretches of colonial houses and primly kept gardens and swept driveways. I see the lawnmowers in their journey across the yard and I suddenly, inexplicably, see you: the bustle of 7th St. SE, the grime of Farragut North where the suited men and women emerge and descend. I can see Kramer Books, I can see the little blue house of Anthropologie in Georgetown, and I see Chop't in Chinatown, and the D6 bus with my favorite driver calling out, "Union, Station, Union, Station."

It's been a while since you and I saw each other, and I threw leaves in the air with Mandie, or drank apricot iced tea in Port City Java, or wandered around Farragut Park while talking furiously on the phone to my mother or to my friend... and I haven't forgotten, you know. I carry you with me.

My world here is colored with the smells of freshly cut grass and the innumerable cups of tea that my parents and I drink on the porch with the black lab at our feet. I'm still reading books, I'm studying history (I know, it came out of nowhere and everywhere, didn't it?). I drive to work, and there's not a Metro station in sight. And when I look out into the sky from my window, I can't make out the outline of the Capitol building. I see the sky sprinkled with stars. The air has a new edge to it, cleaner, maybe, or just tasting like summer.

But I keep what you taught me close to my heart: the fact that writing is good, even when it is hard, and this blog, which began just being about me and the coffee shops, the business meetings, about teaching myself to be myself in a new place. I learned the joy of sign language from you (and Virginia, of course). I learned that there is promise in what is unfamiliar and that God listens closer to our hearts than we do. I learned that to be homesick means to know what home is.

You taught me myself. How is that, that places know us before we do? You knew, from the bump of the plane on the tarmac to the last glance backward in the dark of a 5am bus ride to Baltimore, that I was spending time with you so that I could meet myself. And it's hard, I won't lie, to trust that I am still that person who doubled over laughing in the kitchen with Gillian and Rebecca, who walked to the Lincoln with Sam and saw you spread out before us like a map waiting for our footsteps, who did not question the goodness of God.

It's hard because I have my heart stashed somewhere between the Marine Barracks and the White House, on the blue line to GWU/Foggy Bottom, in the quiet hum of traffic outside the building, in the glass and marble office, in all the crevices I caught my high heels on and all the sidewalks I almost tripped over. You hold 600,000 people and innumerable skyscrapers and too many Blackberry devices to count. You bear the weight of wide-eyed wonder and disillusionment, the promise and the price of the powerful, and the small miracles of dog walking in Lincoln Park and boys who scribble in my sketchbook and strangers who smile at me on the street when I look a little downcast.

You hold me.

So, DC, know that I carry you with me, in my bones, in the way that I dress for work and the way that I listen to others and the way that I trust Him. I watch the world with better eyes, and I love the world with a bigger heart.

I'm sitting in Massachusetts miles away from a Peregrine espresso, miles away from the almost-tattoo I got in Adams Morgan, and the cupcakes we ate at DuPont, and the long beautiful walk from L St to Busboys & Poets, and I can hear a kettle singing and the shower running, and so I'll go for now. But thank you for not giving me my whole heart back on December 11. Thank you for carrying it in your streets and monuments, in your marble buildings and elevators, and in the midst of your beautiful chaos.

I'll come back soon, I promise.



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