Friday, September 30, 2011

my people (a five minute post)

Lisa-Jo, that wonderful blogger extraordinaire and my DC mama, runs five minute Fridays over at The Gypsy Mama. I have taken a few weeks away from this activity, and have been deep in the crazy chaos of beginning my senior year of college... but this week, she wrote on friends, and I have to join in. Won't you come along, and let your words fly free?

They hold me tight with their words first. They learn how many voices I have, how long I linger in silence when I'm unsure of what is next, that particular look on my face when the boy has said "no" or the singleness has become hard or the workload too much. They know the other looks, of joy bubbling over and laughter from my toes to my hair spilling in every direction.

They challenge me. They push to discover why, to explore the caverns in my heart and to listen for the echoes of their own. They hold my heart in their heart. They pick up the pieces when some things break and they laugh with me and delight with me when things become whole again.

These people, who come out from their corners of the world - from the ones on 8th St at Family Night Dinner, to the ones in this Bromley apartment, to the ones who cup mugs of chai with me at the Atomic, to the ones who watch all the best gangster movies with me, to the ones who laugh at my stupid jokes, to the ones who just tell me - "Hilary, I love you."

These are the wondrous people who draw the constellations of stars in my life. These are the people who whisper to me about the greatness, and the goodness. These are the people who, though I quiver and shake, tell me that I will be a writer and a blogger and that the dreams I dream and worth chasing.

And then we hold out our hands, full of our young blossoming life, and take off running towards the future, knowing that we hold each other. That we carry our hearts together.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

He is that good (I get surprised)

My stubborn body marches across the campus, arms folded, books and pens and papers and a spare thank you card or two stuffed in my bag. I am praying a silent, challenging prayer. I glance up at the sky with its painted fall sunset and the trees that rustle with the wind, and I whisper to God: 
(Photo: Hannah Byrnes)
Okay. Show me. Show me You know what I'm going through, this unsteadiness, this smallness, this stress. Show me You know my heart, how it is bending and aching, and how it longs for a little bit of space away to think, how it aches to hold all of the beautiful people in this world but how it feels empty. Show me, O Lord, that You made me. That I can trust You.

I unfold my arms and continue into my apartment. I open the door to the loud chaos of home: I haven't blogged in forever. There is a pile of dishes waiting to be scrubbed clean. I have so much homework in this night that I don't think I will ever make my way through it. I am tired, and hungry, and cranky, and ready to forget about that prayer.  

After all, I say to myself as I pick up the sponge to attack the traces of peanut butter in the sink, I wasn't even really listening to myself while I was praying. I was making a to-do list in the back of my mind the whole time.

So imagine with me the surprise when He answered. 

Lisa-Jo emails with a crazy idea that might mean I get to see her in October, and though I would normally have classes, and work, and every possible obstruction, it is the only week that this one class was cancelled and the other class doesn't meet, and the path is smooth from Boston to DC.
(Photo: Hannah Byrnes)
And Cami whispers as she slides my breakfast on my plate on Tuesday morning that she wants to send me on a retreat, somewhere to get away and breathe, somewhere to sleep and rest and laugh and be still before God. 

Then I return home to my roommates last night only to find that we are all sitting there, a pan of brownies in the middle, laughing and listening and sharing our stories of drama and angst and uncertainty, but laughing at ourselves, listening to the wonder of Laura Marling, and the space stays full.

I threw up the challenge and He handed back the blessings. I gave Him my uncertainty and His gift back was the delighted surprise of His love. I pouted, and complained, and told Him every sorrowful difficult confusing and tumultuous thing, and I told Him just-exactly-how-impossible-all-of-this-was-and-what-did-He-think-I-was-supposed-to-do!

And He answered me with grace. 

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!

And now, I remember how impatient I've been, and how unbelieving, and how unsure. And I realize: sometimes the grace of grace is that it surprises us. Sometimes the grace of blessing is that it waits for an unexpected moment.  

May grace go with you, and surprise you. 


Monday, September 26, 2011

When You Ache for A Place You Love

I've been aching somewhere inside me for Washington, DC. I want it back, my feet on those broken brick sidewalks, watching leaves fall in Lincoln Park, eating cupcakes (there were so many of those) and drinking cappuccinos while reading about policy. I am straining at every mooring here in Wenham to get back because, as I have written before, there is a piece of my heart that lives in those bustling street corners and remembers the park benches and the apricot iced tea and the walk from the Eastern Market Metro back to 8th St with the people who I never imagined in all my wanderings would become so close.

A year ago I wrote a "quieter" kind of post. A year ago I was learning that the quiet voice is to be treasured and spoken and remembered longer than the loud, indignant voice and the doubtful, questioning voice. I was learning how to speak from my quiet place, how to speak with love, how to love words.

On Sunday, September 26, 2010, I reminded myself that Plato said,  "Poetry is nearer vital truth than history."

And a few days before that I had been regaling you all with the tales of my encounter with the squirrel in Farragut Park before my internship one morning. The squirrels in DC are crazy; this one was out to get me. I remember how I desperately attempted to kick a squirrel away from my bench while writing in a prayer journal and trying to look cute for the parade of cute button-down-wearing, plaid-is-the-best-look-for-fall, messenger-bags-and-loafers guys who walked by. I can close my eyes and picture myself, my elbows flying in multiple directions, my laugh uncontrollable, and the truth that, somehow, in the midst of it all, "I'm marvelous!" singing in the back of my head.

And then the Pink Elephant Shoes come into my life in early October.

And then the almost-presentation at Heritage in our public policy class. Except that we couldn't present because our contact went out of town on business and didn't tell anyone.

And then came the lesson about mercy. The lesson about one step at a time, and learning to fly. The lesson about how even when we are in the midst of beautiful new places and new experiences, when our new self is emerging, in all her laughter and joy and sorrow and confusion - God still has lessons to teach us about Himself.

And then came the lesson about promises. The lesson where God moved into my heart and didn't let go, and how He calmed the storms and moved the mountains and in the midst of it all, how He promised His faithfulness. How He promised His love.

I long for DC today like the desert longs for a hurricane. But those lessons - laughter and poetry and mercy and promise - ring out like bells and remind me that even if my feet only touch the sidewalks between the music building and the science center, even if I look out my window at New England fall sky and pine trees, even if my heart is full of senior thesis and Sara Evans and the smells of September... Still, my heart is growing towards Him. 


Friday, September 23, 2011

The way to You (on my journey with Orthodoxy)

I haven't written very much on this blog about my journey with Orthodoxy. I began to explore it my senior year of high school, with all the boundless energy and assuredness that I carried with me. I read the books and practiced prayers of the ancient church fathers who I did not know and could not understand. I thought about icons. I thought about incense. I poked my head into doorways and windows, and stood on my tiptoes to peer inside.

I know now that I wanted to run before I knew how to walk there. I wanted to be Orthodox before I wanted to know Orthodoxy. I wanted those prayers to be mine, somehow, before I had let the words seep into my heart and strengthen me from afar.

And so I fell down, like every child learning to walk. I tripped over my own two feet as I went sprinting ahead, so sure that this is what was next and right and this is who I was and this is what I was going to do and, and, and...

I remember going for a walk in March of my freshman year of college, down to the pond half a mile from my house. I sat down on the concrete edge, my feet dangling over the water in their red sneakers. The wind brushed my hair into my eyes and as I tucked the strands back behind my ears I felt myself exhale, and I prayed, out loud to the quiet pond and the rustling branches, "I am not ready to do this." I prayed about falling over, about not knowing how to walk, admitting for the first time that I'd been clutching those beautiful prayers and icons and mysteries too close to my impatient heart, and they didn't belong to me yet. And I began to give it back to Him - the desire to be Orthodox, the desire to pray those prayers, the desire to feel at home in the gravity of that sanctuary - and slowly, He put my on my feet again.

This morning I woke up with the words of the Divine Liturgy ringing in my ears. The prayers wove in and out as I stared at the rain waiting in the sky and pressed my nose up against the windowpane. For this holy house and for those who enter it with faith, reverence, and the fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.

Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and protect us O God by your grace. 

Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Lady the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary, with all the saints, let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God. 

I still don't know how to walk in Orthodoxy, how to feel the weight of those words in my heart, how to wrap myself up in them and pray them. But this morning I heard these words. And I added a few of my own:

O Lord, teach me to walk.

O Lord, teach me to give You my heart.

O Lord, teach me to pray.

O Lord, again and again in peace, because You are merciful and because You know me, know this little redheaded girl staring out this window with the melody of the Liturgy ringing in her ears, who is waiting on You, and hoping in You? Show me the way to You. 

And until You say, "It's time" – let me grow in love for what I see through the windows of the sanctuary and help me, save me, have mercy on me, and protect me O God by your grace. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary (Some Tough Love)

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 having trouble believing. I don't know exactly in what. Maybe in God. Maybe in goodness. Maybe in the idea that good things are going to happen to me and I'm going to find a job, build a life, find love. I sit down for a moment, and try to write or think or sing or breathe and I just can't. I can't feel the hope fluttering against my heart. I'm sick of hearing the same old, "trust and obey, trust and obey." I don't know how to do either and no one will tell me how and isn't it unfair that the things I want aren't the things I get and I don't know how to want what's in front of me? And everyone will say, "just trust, trust, trust trust trust" until I can't take it anymore! What do I do?



Dear Confused,

I've got some tough things to say to you today, lovely. You aren't going to like them. You will rage against them like you're so clearly raging against the fences around your life. You will think that I'm crazy, and who-am-I-anyway-to-tell-you-anything. But the truth won't compromise. It stands and does not shake, even if you roar. Even if you break your heart roaring.

So. You're mad. You're mad that you don't get what you want. Say it out loud. Say the real thing out loud. Stop telling yourself it's outside you - that you try to believe, but you just "can't," that you're really doing everything you can but it's not working, that the world is pitted against you in some kind of cosmic wrestling match where the rules change every five minutes and the universe has an unfair advantage. This is the heart of the story: you want something that isn't yours. You want something that doesn't belong to you. You're mad (maybe sad, and confused, and disappointed) that you don't have this thing-that-other-people-have-that-you-don't.

Okay, did you repeat that, Confused? That's what it sounds like you're saying. You choose not to believe the people who tell you that you're going to find a job, and a life, and love, because you're mad that you don't have it all right now exactly the way you want it. You choose to harbor the frustration and the wounded disappointment. Maybe it makes you feel like a martyr. Maybe it makes you feel like a silent suffering servant. Maybe you're holding out to see how many people you can refute when they tell you to trust.

But the cold quiet truth is that you're grasping at something that isn't yours. Maybe it's an acceptance letter or a job offer or a sweet apartment in the heart of DC. Maybe it's knowledge - a certainty about your future or about your life, knowledge of what someone's thinking or what they're going to do. Maybe it's simply control: walking through your day as a self-sufficient and perfectly capable person, who isn't worried or troubled or unsure or confused.

For a multitude of mysterious reasons I won't begin to try and explain, Confused, you don't have it. The only reason that matters is that it hasn't been given to you. And I promise with all my heart that you won't find it by sitting in the corner and writing this letter to me and telling me how hard it all is. I bet it is, sweetheart. I bet it's unimaginably hard to stand at a hundred crossroads with no map and nothing (not even wind) to guide you. But it's not going to get easier, and wishing that it would is wasted time.

It's not going to get easier but you can become stronger. The world won't bend to accomodate you; you have to learn to walk through it, through the hard things, learn to push on, learn to sing while you do it. The hope doesn't flutter against your heart; it is your heartbeat. We don't tell you how to trust and obey because when you long for the answer you will find that you are already in the midst of it. 

I'm not sorry that you don't have what you want, Confused, because it means your heart has room to ask a bigger, more beautiful question. I promise you'll find your way towards an answer.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

and feed on Him in your heart (faith and thanksgiving)

I kneel at the altar rail, my body aching to be a prayer position. How long has it been, I think, since I got on my knees in front of God? How long since I've let myself feel the ground and bow my head and fold my fingers into each other? The priest looks at my upturned face and holds out the Bread, and says, 

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. 

I hold the wafer with a slight tremor in my hands. Oh. I hear the small, quiet voice. I miss that. 

I've been thinking this week about the connection between our hearts and bodies and selves and souls. And how they are messily and beautifully one. That we are integrated, indivisible, our physicality mirroring and reflecting our spirituality, and vice-versa. I have wanted to get on my knees, palms raised, and whisper my quiet questions. I have wanted to turn my face in His direction and cry and laugh and sing. But I haven't. I say all the customary things: I am busy, I am tired, I am just-not-in-the-mood, I'm not hungry. I clothe the hunger in excuses, in worries and petty cares, in too much responsibility and too little time. I tell myself I'll feed on Him later, but I can do it on my own for now. I can manage. I'm not really that hungry.

And the words of the priest ring back in my desperately hungry heart: feed on Him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

Feed on Him. That means be hungry for Him, Hilary Joan, and let Him fill you. 

In thy heart. That means in the innermost part of you, Hilary Joan, the part that is guarded and wistful and singing and fragile, and let Him inside you. 

By faith. That means trust it, when you don't feel full after, Hilary Joan, when you find the Word hard, and the teaching mysterious, and the prayers heavy, and sing out anyway. 

With thanksgiving. That means the gratitude that knows Him, Hilary Joan, and remembers His faithfulness. 

He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

And suddenly, among the clamor of voices that beg me to be self-sufficient, to be more efficient, less needy, less hungry, I hear Him say, Hilary Joan, won't you let me feed you?


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They're Never Going to Like Me (a post for the Good Women Project)

I have the privilege of offering some thoughts about singleness today over at The Good Women Project. I was introduced to this blog over the summer by another blogger, and I'm excited for the chance to share in their work, and their writing. You can find them here and read the post here

“They’re never going to like me.” I wrote this the summer before my freshman year of college. I wrote it definitively in the strong strokes of a ballpoint pen, after a summer of chasing the dream of dating.

He had been interested for a while, it seemed. In between the haze of July and the fear of starting college in the fall, we’d had coffee once or twice. We’d kissed on a bench looking out over the ocean – right there, he had put his hands on my cheekbones and kissed me. We weren’t dating, but I was sure it would become something. That it had to become something.

He disappeared. Texts went unanswered; the facebook message thread faded, and then was deleted. The summer dissolved, and I started school with the words, “they’re never going to like me.”

And that voice was followed by this chaotic hurricane of reasons: I must not be pretty enough, skinny enough, sweet enough, funny enough. I’m too young, not young enough, too intense, too light-hearted, too poetic, and not poetic enough… I contradicted myself two or three times over while I made that list. I inked a wall around my heart.

To keep reading, click on over here


(photo: mandie sodoma, sindisiwe photography)

Monday, September 12, 2011

A little ways after departure

"The Reasons I Miss You."

That might be a good blog post title, I think to myself as I turn into my driveway. I'm not going to buy a cupcake in Newburyport, or walk along the dock with the pups wriggling in delight. I'm not going to watch a glass of water sweat condensation onto the top of your magazines, or look anxiously around the small apartment hoping beyond hope that you aren't about to tell me the thing I just told myself, inside my heart - hoping you won't say, "Yes, Hil, you have to do that hard thing." I pull the car into the driveway and sing a little Ingrid Michaelson as the sun (it's shining so bright, you wouldn't believe it) twinkles over the heads of the sunflowers.

I soak in the moment: I'm eating a scone and sitting in the sun with the big black dog at my feet, drinking in the warmth of September. I think about how much has changed, how you and I live in these different worlds: one is full of humid rain and sweet tea and verandas and azaleas and one is full of sunflowers and pumpkin spice lattes and breezes off the Atlantic. How did we get here, I wonder, and I want to ask you, not about this, exactly, but about why there are seasons and why things change.

And last night I went out for dessert, praline ice cream and peach tart tatin spread around the plate with my spoon, and I remembered how many questions you asked without asking. How by the end of the spring of the third year of meetings, I could start talking, talking, talking, and end in the quiet place, even with only an occasional question spoken out loud. How did you do that, I want to ask you. How did you see through all of that organized, competent, driven, achiever exterior and see just me, the girl with the red hair who trips over her own two feet and who doesn't know, in the end, where she's going? Who holds more questions than answers and whose head and heart sometimes fight and sometimes harmonize?

I wrote when your departure was near that I needed to become brave. And I'm trying, in the midst of all this busyness, all this chaos, to find a bit of storm. I still don't move through this like an ocean liner, but I do move more slowly. I am savoring things, resting a bit here and there, journaling, a few poems scattered throughout my day. I'm straining to see Him and to trust it, whether or not it's obvious.

But the reasons I miss you are small and everyday:

tea, and the grey clouds outside your office window
your hugs
the small apartment, and the house, and caffé disienna the first time
telling you about italy
telling you about dc
listening to you tell me to become humble
the way you ask, "what's with that face?" and already know the answer
cupcakes (preferably, of course, without anything too lemon-y)
your love of yellow tulips
your insistence on obedience
the finishing school
the icon
the prayers you taught me
your laughing at me

I wanted to write them down somewhere, because I do miss you, and because missing someone is like recognizing that your heart lives somewhere outside your self. I wanted to say hello to the piece of me you're carrying. I wanted to say thank you, for carrying it with you. I imagine you reading this, wherever you are, and smiling. And I'm smiling back.
(photo: jessica fairchild, jessica fairchild photography)


Friday, September 9, 2011

How A Wedding Taught Me to Trust

(Photo: Jessica Fairchild)
We wake up early, and she wriggles with excitement when I hug her good morning. "It's today!" I say, and a smile escapes from her eyes and her mouth and she's grinning like crazy. Today, this beautiful woman, who I have known from days at Chop't and wandering through Old Town Alexandria, who tells me over and over that I am beautiful, that she loves me, who makes me tea lattes and walks to the WWII Memorial with me to explore our hearts and to laugh as we trip over the curb and say, "Good afternoon!" to a police officer at 8pm - she is getting married.

We eat half a bagel and the air around us feels light. It hums with some kind of excitement, some kind of energy that I haven't felt before. I look out at the light grey sky, watching as the breeze slinks between the trees and the passion fruit growing above the porch sways. She sweeps her hair over her shoulder as she gazes around her, a smile on her face. I look down at our feet, coral toes against the clean white kitchen tiles. It seems like just yesterday she was whispering into the phone all her love for this man, how it was growing, how she thought, yes, I want to marry him. And from those small words, that seemed so very unreal, so far from what might be possible, she is here, her bare feet grazing the floor, her brown eyes crinkled in laughter and I realize it: this is what it looks like to trust Him.

(Photo: Jessica Fairchild)
She disappears for a little while, to get her hair curled and braided and to put on the bronze and gold eyeshadow that makes her brown eyes glow. Her dad runs out to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to buy hazelnut lattes, and I remember how on my first visit to California we curled up in chairs and talked about our futures, and the world, and how we didn't know what was next, but we dreamed about it, about getting back to DC and laughing and seeking the truth. And she reminded me then, that He will surely do it (her favorite verse from Thessalonians), and I reminded her that we must be strong, and take heart, and wait for the Lord (my favorite verse from Psalm 27). And we planted seeds of our own love of Him in each other.

And as I straighten my hair, watch as its red glints catch the rising sun through the bathroom window, and hum a few bars of their song - "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane - I shake my head and think about the journey: the surprises of love, how none of us would have predicted or believed that we would be here. But we are here, and she is looking in that mirror about to walk down that aisle, and I see the trust in her delight.

I'm humbled by it. Delight comes from trust. Not from knowing the next steps, the perfect plan. Not from being certain, but from laying her life in His hands and saying yes to love, yes to hope, yes to the unlikely promises. The prayers of "what next, Lord?" the humble us and bring us to our knees. And this morning, I look into my own eyes and I sneak a peek of her in the mirror, as she gets ready to become married, and I long, suddenly, to trust Him like she does. To let that kind of pure delight wash over me, and fill me up. To let her be the example, today on this most glorious, unexpected, and beautiful day of the beauty that comes from the heart that trusts Him. 

(photo: Jessica Fairchild)
So I slip into the purple dress and slip into delight, too. And I watch this beautiful woman, full to the brim with love, get married. The bridesmaids and I marvel at her, at the sun that bursts over the courtyard just as the ceremony begins, and the slight wind that almost seems to tell us that yes, the blessing is real.

So I watch her, with all of my heart, and I speak the words of my toast to the room, about the surprises of love. And I realize that this is a surprise for us all: that in two people who get married on a Sunday in August is hidden the example of delight.

And I'm so glad that I know her, that she pours out her heart and lifts it up, and reminds me, always, to do the same.

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
         Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
  Delight yourself also in the LORD,
         And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
  Commit your way to the LORD,
         Trust also in Him,
         And He shall bring it to pass.
 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
         And your justice as the noonday. 

(Photo: Jessica Fairchild)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

when it rains, sometimes it pours (about beauty)

This morning I woke up to rain. It presses against the glass, against tree branches, slides along the pavement and through the sand of the volleyball court outside my building. I hear it crash against the edges of the road as cars drive by, and there is a steadiness, even an insistence, about it this morning. When it rains, they say, it pours.

Yesterday the word beautiful poured into my day, across the floor at breakfast in Gloucester, followed me around shopping at the mall, crept up over my shoulder at coffee and then meandered down the tamed (but still a little bit wild) paths around Gull Pond. Everywhere I went, this question - "what do we do with 'beautiful'?" asked itself. And, young as I am, uncertain as I am - I want to run outside in the rain of this question and laugh, delightedly.

What do we do with beautiful? 

I ask this because I feel uncertain about it. Because I look in the mirror some days, and feel like there's nothing too special there. And for so long, I wore the makeup and the clothes and the headbands to hide that question - am I beautiful? - underneath all the things I thought might make me that way. And yesterday, as two beautiful friends sat across from me drinking cappuccino and walked next to me to the dock, they both wanted to know: how did you give up makeup?

I smiled. "Honestly?" I began, and they nod, looking at me from beneath shimmering eyelids and bright cheeks. "I gave it up because I was dependent on it. I didn't know my face without it. I didn't like my face without it." And I tell them about the days when I reached for my eyeshadow and when I longed to slide the black pencil under my eyelids, just for a hint of drama, just to get someone to pay a little bit more attention to me. I tell them how it made me wonder, drew me right in to ask the question of the One who made me: So, God, am I beautiful?

And His answer is a fierce and loud and forever Yes. A Yes to being beautiful even when I'm not sure of it. Even when the guys I hope will notice me don't. Even when I am full to the brim with a hundred reasons that I shouldn't think of myself that way. He says I am beautiful, and sets my heart straight again.

What do we do with beautiful?
(photo: hannah byrnes)

We live it. We wake up in the morning and stretch our bodies into the world. We marvel at the faces we meet, how eyes carry our selves, and the smile betrays the laughter, and the way they walk reveals how much joy they have. We marvel at how expressive we are, how our hands paint the air with words and ideas, how we move, how our lungs breathe and how our heart muscles beat.

And we laugh, so loudly and run through the rain that pours into our lives and hear Him say Yes, and hear His delight, and then find others, who ask the question, who worry about it, who wonder if they are beautiful - and we remind them.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

what we offer (lifting up our hearts)

I haven't been to church in a few weeks. A wedding here, a hurricane there, my own head and heart running away from Him also in the midst of the beginning of school... and here I am, standing in front of the altar. It is the same morning service I've always known, the Rite I, the old elegance. I can recite all the words, eyes closed. I'm in the midst of doing so, when my eyes suddenly snap open.

The words ring out bright and harsh in the early light: Lift up your hearts.

(photo: mandie sodoma)
He wants me to lift up my heart to Him.

I avoid this command. I hold out my heart - to my friends, to the written page, to strangers sometimes. I anxiously offer it to others, asking them to hold it a while, but when have I lifted it up out of my own ribcage into the hands of the One who made it?

I keep a close watch on my heart. I watch each small pinprick - of silence, or of a harsh word, of a disappointed expectation. I make a silent list of the things I don't have (boyfriend, certainty, a plan, a size 0 waist, boundless energy, an abundance of words). I go for a walk with a dear professor and find myself saying, "It's like I'm trying to shove Him out of my heart! Like I'm saying, 'Go on! Get out of here! You won't give me what I want! You won't show me the way!'"

I have been offering God just about everything except my heart. I offer my schoolwork, my ideas, my work. I offer up my plans. I offer up my prayers, my time. I do my Bible studies and read my devotionals. But my heart?
(photo: mandie sodoma)
That I withhold. That I say, no, you can't come in here. I keep the door locked, whispering that I know my own heart better than He could, that He doesn't understand, that He can have all of the external parts of me, but I'd like to keep the life-blood, the alive-ness, the quivering and shockingly beautiful heart to myself.

But this morning, it's my heart He asks for. Not my schedule. Not my money. Not my plans.

He asks me for my self.

He reminds me of what I promised in journal pages in the midst of winter - I will trust in You and Your unfailing love, and I will give You my whole life, my whole self, my heart. It is Yours, O Father, and I ask that Your make Your presence felt there. You promised that You are with us always, and I trust Your promises. 

So I make the reply: we lift them up unto the Lord. 

I take my heart, and all its worries, and all its waiting, and lift it up in my small hands.

(photo: mandie sodoma)
And at just that moment, when all the walls have come down and I shiver to know that I'm giving it up to be transformed, I catch a glint of light caught in the stained glass window. It winks and dazzles, and I hear my heart remember - When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8.12)



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