Thursday, March 29, 2012

my story is quiet, letter twenty-one, hilary to preston

On Tuesdays and Thursdays around these parts, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share the wonder of mystery, grace and our encounters with mercy. We hope to see you in the comments. Read the letter I'm responding to here.

Dear Preston,

I've never been to an altar call. I've never said the Sinner's prayer. I've never felt a tug on my heart from the Holy Spirit to walk up an aisle in front of crowds of people and tell the world how much I believe. The thought of it makes me shy: a mole who wants to bury back in her sheets, snuggle back down in the warmth of a grey sweatshirt or the old, carved out words of the Confession. I don't think I'd have the right words to share my testimony.

I don't have a dramatic story about converting to Christianity. I was raised in it, in the rhythms and patterns of the liturgy. I took first Communion in a dress from a children's second hand shop that I begged my mother to buy me. It was white with big splashes of pink roses, with a lace collar. I wore white patent leather Mary Janes and walked up to the altar with my parents on either side, and my brothers and sister, and held out my small hands.

That's the moment that changed it all for me. The weeks of learning about what the elements were, why we had Eucharist every Sunday. I read the stories of Jesus sharing that last, hallowed meal with his disciples and I wanted to be there. I wanted to sit at the table and eat food blessed by Him. I wanted to talk to Jesus.

So I knelt there at eight years old, knees sinking into the old red velvet, and finally felt the weight of the bread pressed into my hands. I heard the words: the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, keep you in eternal life. I squirmed with delight at those words - because in them I heard His invitation to always be with Him in that last, hallowed meal. The invitation to talk to Him and meet Him and belong to Him.

The wine came around next, and I watched my wafer carefully dip into the chalice and come back out, without spilling wine on my dress. The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation. I put the wafer in my mouth and felt it sit on my tongue. I walked back with my parents, back to our pew and our blue 1982 Hymnals, and I felt new all over.

My story feels quiet compared with an altar call. I always wanted a big story about grace, about how God swept in and shifted everything, about a who-I-was-before and who-I-am-now that look like opposites. But I have a quiet story about a First Communion that was at least partially a big deal because my best friend down the street was a Catholic and had a big party with relatives and ice cream cake for her First Communion. I only have the quiet stories from the same pews in the same few churches. I only have stories of Hilary, do you love me more than these? But no Saul on the road to Damascus.

You're right to wonder about what evangelism looks like in the liturgical tradition. I wonder about it, too. I'm glad you're calling yourself an evangelical again. I don't know if I call myself one - part of me wants to. But part of me - the part that can't name the time or place where I became a Christian, the part that loves Tradition and the saints, the part that leans into Eastern winds just to catch a few refrains of the Lord, have mercy - wonders if I am, or could be.

But maybe the truest definition of an evangelical is someone who aches to meet Jesus, someone who puts their heart at risk for love and grace. Maybe the truest definition is someone who kneels down, altar call or Eucharist, pew or gym floor, in someone's living room or at St. Peter's - and prays for grace.

My story is quiet - but I'm on my knees.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: Praise for the Water

This week I'm linking up with the wonderful Joy over at Joy in this Journey. We write about the messy and beautiful, and share how we meet truth in it. Won't you come share your story with us?

Dear Hilary,

My imagination runs away with me. I meet someone that I like, and I spin out these stories about who we could be, or what it could be like to get to know them, to be with them. I think about the future in three dimensional colored pictures that I can walk through; imagine my home and the job I'll have and the things I'll say and do. I feel like when I move from those imaginings back to here, I'm disappointed. How can I be happy with the present?

Wistful Thinking

Dear Wistful Thinking,

When I was in tenth grade, a boy I liked very much (had liked for the whole year) told me on the back porch steps of one of our high school buildings that he was dating another girl. I sat there, hair crunchy with unfamiliar mousse I had borrowed (or maybe stolen) from my sister, feet stuck in blue plastic flipflops, wearing eye makeup for one of the first times, and watched as he talked to his hands. I had been dreaming about this guy becoming my boyfriend for a year. I had convinced myself those dreams were going to come true. The signs were there - the notes passed back and forth, the significant looks exchanged, the smiles and the awkwardness... I thought the story had to come true.

So you can imagine, with that beautiful untamed imagination of yours, how I felt when he got up off the creaking steps to rejoin his actual girlfriend. Like a melted puddle, or a shattered glass, or maybe just a fifteen year old longing for love.

I almost inevitably wish my vivid imagination away when the dreams don't become anchored in the day to day, feet-on-the-ground, rocky reality we all inhabit. I wish that I couldn't picture what it would be like to be that boy's girlfriend. I wish I couldn't imagine being in this or that program at this or that school, so that when I don't get in or it doesn't work out. I don't want to look at those beautiful dreams floating away like so many colorful balloons.

The thing about your beautiful three dimensional colored pictures is that you never hear in them the other actual beating hearts that are involved. You don't hear about how the boy feels about you. You don't hear about whether this or that job is hiring you. You can walk through the picture a thousand times but you can't really hear anyone except yourself. This is why it runs away with you, love. Because when you walk out of those pictures into our messy world, you collide headfirst with those other actual beating hearts. And people never do or say the things we wished they would. Never at the time or in the way or the place we pictured.

So, ultimately, the diagnosis for your problem is not that you dream. It's that you are disappointed when  you collide with the limits of those dreams.

I felt disappointed, too. I swore off ever thinking that a guy liked me. I swore I'd never try to picture my life in New York City or Washington, DC or Paris, because what if it didn't happen, what then? And it is so much more impossible to stop ourselves from dreaming than you think, and before you knew it I was imagining what it would be like to move to France and become a writer, imagining falling in love with a Parisian man I'd seen once, and riding down the Champs Élysée on a bicycle, in a cute black dress. Imagining beautiful futures is not wrong. But it should make you closer to the present, not further away. It should make you praise the real things in front of you: water, clean laundry, a paper finished on time, babysitting, lunch outside.

Your imagination gets the better of you if you do not direct it towards a love of what is here. Let your dreams be praises. Move your eyes, filled with the light of the not-quite-real horizon towards the oh-so-real of the house next door. Teach yourself to hold those dreams lightly, like balloon strings, and see them as lovely, but not necessary. Teach yourself to watch them with joy at what they point to - this good world, in which so much is possible. Keep your feet planted, and release them.

And then go drink a glass of water in your kitchen in bare feet, the sun shining through a smudged pane of glass, and give praise for the water.

Life: Unmasked

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Courageous Faith (The Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Last year, for the fifth Sunday of Lent, I wrote about the Mary and Martha story: Do you believe this? Jesus asks Martha in the Gospel of John. Do you believe I am the resurrection and the life? Do you believe me? 

At that moment, my English grandmother had just died, and I was angry at God for the questions and the loneliness and the overwhelming sense of needing to be perfect, and if only He had been listening and if only I hadn't been messing up, it would all still be perfect.

One long year later, and I read my words again.

I have learned that faith is brave.

It takes courage to tell Jesus that even now, you know God will give Him whatever He asks. It is brave to look at Jesus on the cross and believe that this man from Nazareth is the Son of God, the resurrection and the life, that He has come into this world to transform it.

Martha was brave in this story. Her heart, heavy with loss and with questions, still pushed her forward, towards Jesus. And when she asks her question, Jesus, who sees all and who loves all, replies: "Your brother will rise again."

And then she is brave and questions him again - because sometimes God wants us to knock harder at the door and push further into the story. Sometimes He wants us to ask for more. And when Martha does, Jesus tells her: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe me?"

God waited until Martha asked again, until she challenged His first answer, to reveal something miraculous. Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Last year I wondered what was so miraculous about that. Maybe you have wondered too. Maybe we are all Martha, our whole selves aching with loss and hurt, our bones weighed down by gravity. But Martha speaks from courage, and God answers her. She challenges Jesus - Lord, if you had been here -

And God answers back with the truth about the resurrection.

One year after writing these words I didn't realize I would need to read again, I hear courage in Martha's voice. I hear her trembling, aching heart weary for something more than beautiful words, weary for something more than comfort. I hear how she aches for the truth. I hear how she believes.

May we be filled with the same courage.


Fifth Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly
wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to
love what you command and desire what you promise; that,
among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts
may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

we live loud (a five minute post)

On Fridays, the wonderful Lisa-Jo over at The Gypsy Mama leads us in writing, free and wild, for just five minutes. Not editing or worrying or second guessing. Won't you come join us, and let your words fly free, too?

This week it's on loud.

Our hearts thump against our ribs, and our feet move up and down the rickety bleacher steps. "Pick it up! Pick it up!" he yells as we clamber up and down, up and down. I have a stitch in my side and I can't think about anything except the next step, getting to the end, feeling my muscles sing with growing stronger. And ache a bit, too.

I'm in this running class learning to listen to my body, learning to remember that we are built to move, to live life loud from within these skeletons and muscle structures and beautiful mysterious bodies. I am running up and down the stairs in the wind and sun of the first day of spring realizing that to live at all, we must live loud.

We must push ourselves up and down the stairs, harder than we want to. We must challenge ourselves to be brave, and to run farther than we think we can. We must pull on sneakers and old T-shirts and make fools of ourselves running up and down bleachers learning how to be loud with joy.

I keep running, and slowly the stitch in my side fades and my breathing becomes steadier. I feel my lungs gulp the air and I push my hair back from my forehead. I love the loud that is growing. I love the loud of learning. I love how we somehow, in spite of ourselves, become the people we were meant to become.

Can we live loud and joyful and growing together? Can we breathe with hearts thumping and sneakers pounding against the pavement, the goodness it is just to be in this world?


Thursday, March 22, 2012

because i forgot to cherish, letter nineteen, hilary to preston

On Tuesdays and Thursdays around these parts, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share the wonder of mystery, grace and our encounters with mercy. We hope to see you in the comments. Read the letter I'm responding to here.

Dear Preston,

Your last letter felt like you reached across the many miles that divide us, between our respective Macbook Pro screens, Skype or Twitter or social media, and tapped me on the shoulder. "Remember?" you seemed to be saying. "Remember what it means to cherish? Remember what it means to be in awe of one another?"

This Lent I keep forgetting to cherish. Last year I wrote about tripping and falling during Lent. It was apt at the time, the right metaphor in the right moment. But now it doesn't quite feel like that. I didn't trip - I didn't accidentally fail. I forgot. I willfully let my mind wander to other things, away from cherishing what I promised to cherish, away from the miraculous beautiful wild world I heard God tell me to pay attention to. I promised I'd read Rilke, and I haven't. I promised I'd write in my journal from Italy, and I won't put a pen to the page. I promised Him that I would look for Him in the world, and I've squinted my eyes, scanned the horizon, and gone back to my homework.

I forgot to cherish. I'm ashamed to admit it. I have been busy chasing things that now seem, as we draw frighteningly near to Easter, to fade in importance. I have been chasing approval, chasing accomplishment, chasing some kind of saving by a dazzling performance. I wanted to prove to God how good I've become. I wanted to dazzle Him.

And not only did I fail spectacularly this Lent, like all twenty one of them before, but in the midst of all that rustling and proving and defeating I forgot to cherish. I forgot to look at my wise and eager and lovely apartment mates and be awed by them. I forgot to listen for my friend's laugh, and the soft smile that follows it. I forgot how rare and how treasured are the moments of being known. I forgot to think about the communion of saints, and how the love of friends stretches across miles and time zones. I was busy this Lent, thinking of my piety, and along the way I left my ability to be amazed behind.

We read Gilead this week in the class I am a TA for. I can't tell you how it makes me feel; my words quiver against the strong heartbeat of that book. I only know that God is absurdly, wildly gracious to us in the words He sends through others. I think He knows what that book does to my heart; I think He keeps sending me there on purpose.

And the story catches me in the first moment. "I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you've had with me, and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that. And then you said, Don't laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother's. It's a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern." - page 1.

How John Ames comes alive in the smallest moments! How I wish I remembered to be nearer to the soap bubbles in the sun, the laughter as we walk back from class, the eager faces, the miracle of water. How I hope I learn how to taste the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. How I long to cherish with words. It isn't just how she writes, though goodness knows she writes beautifully. It's more that she reminds us to cherish.

And in Lent, I need reminding. How the goodness of the Lord is visible here, at the end of our senior years of college, in our still young lives, in all that lies ahead of us. How He cherishes us, cherishes this world. He keeps inviting us to cherish it, too.

I'm praying that you are filled with awe at the people in your world, and that you are given the gift of enough time to be in awe a little longer.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: Soften

Dear Hilary,

I hurt someone. I didn't mean to, and I didn't realize at the time that what I said and did, and how I said it and did it, were hurtful. Maybe I might have noticed if I had been paying more attention, but I was wrapped up in my own heart and mind and I didn't see it. She told me that it had been hard. I am still reeling from the news, not sure what to do or if there is anything I can do, since the situation has passed and things have changed. I feel paralyzed.

The Hurtful

Dear The Hurtful,

What a difficult situation. There are several aches going on in your letter, several moments of sadness and worry. The knowledge that you have hurt another person doesn't sit well inside any of us. And that, alongside knowing that it's over, and you can't change your past actions, alongside wondering what on earth you should do now that you know. I feel your aches.

Take a deep breath. That is almost always the first step when we feel a piece of news punch us in the stomach. Breathe for me - in, and out, in and out again. We are tempted to crumple and break apart at the first words - "I need to tell you something," and it's understandable. But it won't help you listen, love, and it won't ultimately help you change. Let the news go through you, feel its weight, let it enter and roar and drown out your internal noise. But keep breathing.

You must be brave, Hurtful, here just as in moments when you must be the one confronting. Being confronted with something difficult requires courage too. It requires that you open yourself to accepting that your actions have consequences, just like every action in the world. What you have done, and said, and what you have forgotten to do and say, it has touched others. Here, and now, you are confronted with the realization that it touched in a hurtful and difficult way someone you love. So you must open yourself to that, and be brave as you listen.

I know the temptation is to be defensive, Hurtful, or to be afraid, or to hide. I have tried them all. I still instinctively react that way often. But if I have learned anything about hearing the hard truth about how you have hurt another person, it is this: it can soften you. It can be a moment where you give up the idea of who you imagine you were in that situation, and reckon with who you were, period. Who you were to your friend. Who you were to others like her. Who you were to yourself. This will be hard. The idea of yourself is always so much more glamorous and lovely than what must have actually happened. Letting go of that idea of who you were will hurt a bit. It will ache. You must allow that.

This is, if you choose it, a moment of petals-towards-the-sun-again growing. This is, if you choose it, where you spin yourself around toward the warmth of the truth and you let it soften and shape you. I know there is a sense of paralysis now that you have the information in retrospect. You probably think, well, what can I do now? It's over, and I can't rewind and change what I did. I can't fix it. But I urge you to consider whether the point is fixing what has come before, or if the bigger point, the point you must carry with you, isn't really about how you go on to know and love and cherish this person and ultimately all people?

Ache with the past, that it is unchanging. Ache that it slips from us far too soon, before we can ever sufficiently undo it. And get low to the ground and ask for forgiveness. Admit her hurt into you, and ask that she forgive you. But do not ache with what has happened forever. Instead let this hard truth about the past soften you. Let it teach you how to love your friend better.

And, sweetheart, let it turn your petals towards the sun. 


PS. I'm linking up with Joy over at Joy in this Journey for Life:unmasked this week, where we share the messy and the beautiful. Won't you come join us, and share your stories too? 

Life: Unmasked

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The True Bread (The Fourth Sunday of Lent)

Today, dear friends, I just wanted to offer you a quick moment of reflection, as the sun sinks below the horizon and as the cool night air blows off the Atlantic, bringing with it the sounds of ocean with it.

We are so often hungering after the right thing. I don't know if we acknowledge that enough, that we are hungry for good things, for worthy things. We long for beautiful and search high and low for good. We sense, innately and instinctively, that there is something about symphonies that is beautiful and something about watching wild geese fly over the field that is good.

We are hungry creatures. So why don't we ever feel full? Why are we hungering and thirsting, and never being filled?

I think we are hungry for the right thing, but I don't think we always eat the right food. The Israelites were hungry for provision, but they didn't want to eat manna. The disciples and the people said, "Lord, always give us this bread," but when Jesus said it was Himself, they grumbled and left. And so we too, who look at the manna we are offered, who look at the true Bread lifted high to save us, and we grumble, and go away hungry.

Alexander Schmemann says, "All that exists is God's gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man's life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: 'O taste and see that the Lord is good.'" - For the Life of the World

Imagine if we let our hunger be filled by the true bread! Imagine with me, if we took our true and good hunger, hunger for the beautiful and the worthy and the real, and offered it up to God to be filled with Himself, with the goodness He blesses around us, with manna sent daily from heaven?

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6.32,33)

(photo by mandie sodoma)


Friday, March 16, 2012

What makes you brave (a five minute post)

On Fridays, the wonderful Lisa-Jo over at The Gypsy Mama leads us in writing, free and wild, for just five minutes. Not editing or worrying or second guessing. Won't you come join us, and let your words fly free, too?

This week it's about brave.

It is the smallest word, just five letters to spell out how we take our hearts up in our arms and keep walking. How we hold heads high and march towards the truth. How we slide off the chair and out the door. How we let the bright unrelenting joy of the truth carry us.

What makes you brave is not scaling a cliff face. What makes you brave is not the grand gesture, the big risk, or the obvious moment. It is the smallest, quietest moment where you sit with yourself and you are brave enough to be empty or brave enough to be still or brave enough to say, "I love you" even when the answer is uncertain or the outcome is difficult.

What makes you brave is that you always side with more love. What makes you brave is that you let love win, always, over what you wanted or what you imagined. What makes you brave is that you go out on a limb to tell someone that they are lovely and loveable and worthy, even when you might not know them well or you don't know how they will hear that news.

And it is the smallest word with the biggest sound. Brave. Sing it. We are brave who let love overflow from us, and who are willing to fling our hearts open even when it looks stupid. We are brave who arise. We are brave who love beyond the boundaries.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

sing for His goodness, letter seventeen, hilary to preston

On Tuesdays and Thursdays around these parts, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share the wonder of mystery, grace and our encounters with mercy. We hope to see you in the comments. Read the letter I'm responding to here.

Dear Preston,

It was good to talk to you, again, good to ramble in real words in real time. There is nothing quite like matching hand gestures with words, is there? I think it's one of my favorite parts of being with people in real life - seeing how all their good words live inside them. Seeing how they think.

It is good to step out into the sea knowing that God already knows how waves and wind work. Perhaps that is the moment of Peter's falling short - he forgot as he walked towards Jesus that God already knew wind and waves. God already knew, and therefore, would already provide. But Peter doubts that God knows, that God is in control, and so he begins to sink.

So we must step into the oceans of what is next trusting that all the wind and waves we find are already known to Him. And He provides everything.

I was thinking earlier on Sunday about this question of gifts. Ann Voskamp is so right - there are thousands of gifts and they are all sizes. There are thousands of gifts and most go unacknowledged. But there is something beyond acknowledging joy. 

I have gotten good at the acknowledgement. At least, I'm much better at acknowledging it than I used to be. I count my way to 1,000 gifts, and I make mental lists of surprising ways He is near to me. I can talk about how air rips through my lungs on a long run in the woods, and feeling the sun warm the ground. I can write down how He gifts with family, with the protection of time to be together (with dinner eaten around the same table every night, and conversations that go on for hours). I want to write these things down. I want to remember, and acknowledge.

But. But. 

There is something nagging at the back of my mind that says the acknowledgement is not where it ends. It does not end with a journal list in a nightstand table drawer.

My acknowledgement turns lazy. I fall into a familiar pattern of giving thanks. I stop thinking about it, really, and run through my day with a laundry list of gifts He's given and no real sense of awe that He gave.

Do you ever wonder about that? How we can keep our hearts, so inclined to inertia, so habitual and rusted, always drawing nearer to Him?

I think of how St. Teresa of Avila looked in that Bernini sculpture, tucked away in the Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It's called the Ecstasy of St. Teresa, but I remember thinking that her face was singing for His goodness. That is what we must do. We must count and then sing. Beyond acknowledging the joy, I think we must sing about His goodness.

In words, certainly. In the book. In the thesis. We must sing beyond that, too - in our friendships and our fights and our hope for the future. We must sing it, fearlessly, and even when (like me some days) the hope flickers and sputters, the words feel like they reach no one, or the mountains of work feel insurmountable.

We must sing for His goodness.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: The Shards of Glass

Today I'm linking up with Joy's life, unmasked, where we share the messy and the beautiful of our lives. We watch together as God works through it. I unmask in letters, but I hope you'll come share however you best tell the miraculous story of you.

Dear Hilary,

Not long ago I had this really hard conversation. I did a brave thing, and I didn't think I'd ever be able to. But see, here is the thing. I keep thinking of a hundred things I should have said. I can't stop this voice in my head from telling me - you should have been nicer. You shouldn't have said those harsh words. You shouldn't have gotten angry. You shouldn't have been hurt. I can replay all of it in my head - the unspoken words swim alongside the ones I actually offered. I watch all the versions of this conversation float past, and they scold me. It was stupid of you to say something. That's what they keep telling me.

Can you help me?


Dear Rewinding,

I dropped a glass not long ago. It shattered into a thousand tiny fragments on the floor of my kitchen and the initial crash made me scream with surprise. I watched as the glass flew in every direction, into dark corners and under cabinets, into places I couldn't reach or see. I stood there, shocked and surprised, as the dust settled and the water dripped from the table onto the floor.

Hard conversations are like broken glass. They fly into a thousand pieces after we've had them - we drop the news, announce the decision, make the move, slide off the chair, out the door, into the hard bright light of what's next - and just then, we watch as it scatters with a huge crash. Everything we thought we knew? Everything that sounded so good at the time, so wise, so thoughtful? It shatters. Our confidence in the conversation cracks. We stand, stock-still and trembling, in front of those doubting voices and we think: what have I done?

I'm going to guess that your conversation involved saying hard honest words. It probably involved heartbreak on your part. It probably involved an ultimatum. The wisest advice columnist I know,  Dear Sugar - she says that ultimatums are good things. Oh, she is so right about this. We assume that those confrontations, those moments of saying, I want this and I don't want that and I cannot continue like this anymore - that they are mean, or harmful, or somehow selfish. And the voices in your head screech loud and clear that you were stupid to say something because they measure the worth of hard things by the immediate pain, not the ultimate importance. 

So let's talk about what is happening now. The glass has shattered. You had the big crash and the shock. You felt the cold water dripping onto your feet. You cried about it. You yelled about it. And you picked up a broom and started to sweep the floor clean. 

This is an important, necessary and good moment. The largest pieces of glass are off the floor. It's safe to walk around with shoes on, treading carefully. You said your piece. You spoke the hidden things into being. You swept the floor. 

But when glass shatters it leaves many more tiny shards behind. They hide between cracks in the floorboards and in the small corners of the room. They linger under cabinets, or under the table. Every once in a while, Rewinding, you are going to walk across the floor and feel the prick of a shard of glass. Maybe it's an story that someone tells that makes you question what you said or did. Maybe it's an idea that you can't imagine not telling them. It can be small, or large, a moment or a long string of moments. You won't be expecting it, and when you step on it there will be a sting.

But I do promise you that as you keep sweeping that floor, the tiny shards of glass will work their way out. You won't always stumble or be stung by memories. And you keep walking across the floor, and sweeping the surprise and the hurt through the door. I believe this about you as surely as I believe anything, love, because you are already strong enough to know you should stop rewinding. Don't condemn yourself because it was hard; love yourself because of that. Don't second guess the conversation; trust instead that the shards of glass will work their way out.

Trust how much you learn by sweeping the floor a thousand times.

Life: Unmasked

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dear Reader, You Encourage Me

This morning, I want to tell you how you encourage me.

Two years ago, I had just decided that I wanted to go to Washington, DC for the semester. Two years ago, I wished for a way to put my heart onto paper. Two years ago, I didn't realize that typing into a "blogger" window would fill me up to the brim, would make me overflow with gratitude and joy.

And then there was DC. 

I walked the sidewalks of Eastern Market and found myself there. I trailed through the Zoo, behind the Lincoln dazzling against the sticky September night, through some hard questions about contentment and what it means to love Jesus with everything you've got.

And I blogged my way through it. Some posts were funny and others sad, some were loud and sarcastic and others quiet. And I didn't think anyone was reading, really - it was all just because I needed to type the words. I needed not to forget the place that still makes me homesick with love when I imagine it. And I never said anything to anyone, but if you read this - you who ate macaroni and oven baked chicken and went to 7-Eleven, who signed with me on the roof that third week and who whispered through tear stained faces that you were glad we met - you gave me the courage to open my heart. 

And then there was Italy. 

I heard the wild call of writing walking through a quiet town in the Umbrian hills as the stars flickered. Someone was smoking a pipe, arguing about the knowability of the divine. Someone was laughing about gelato and cobblestones. Someone else, still, gazed up ahead - I could see her face, full of joy.

I held up my heart against Italian sun and wind on a hilltop in Rome, and felt it wriggle with joy. I never said anything to them, not then, but if you read this - you who traveled with me those ten days - you gave me the courage to write. 

And then there was winter, and summer, and fall. 

And you came to visit, here. You filled my table, me with the still-learning-to-make-more-than-soup kitchen skills. You sat down and stayed a while. You gave me your time. I wrote my way through questions about God and love and being single. I wrote my way through anger and frustration, through being emptied and filled and emptied again. And you listened. I don't know if I typed it, but if you read this - you who wrote me those emails or facebook messages or who stopped me on the sidewalk during the longest days - you gave me the courage to be me. 

To encourage does not just mean to affirm one another. It is not simply saying the nice things, or the lovely things. It is not just listing our best qualities in front of a mirror or over lattes. No, to encourage means to embolden, to hearten, to inspire with courage. And you have inspired me with courage.

Thank you for saying, "Of course you're not good. Not yet. But you can put a sentence together. That's a beginning." {I carry those words.} Thank you for nodding when I confessed in the car that I wanted to be a writer. Thank you for reading the last five drafts of my play. Thank you for chatting at the sky, for living life between countries, callings and kids, for being a heart to heart person, for the one thousand gifts.

 And may we all be courageous together.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Glorious One (The Third Sunday of Lent)

Today I want to write quick, before my fingers forget what my heart is singing. I woke up to the realization that Christ is in all things preeminent.

Do you know what this means, friends? That He gives us sparrows and seasons, that He gives grace in abundance and speaks goodness over our mess. And the whole of it, from each stone in our path to the stars scattered across the Friday, to the moon rising and the fields and the wildflowers, and the beauty of England in March? In all of this is Christ, glorious and real. 

I had a thought while I was driving home from church today, praying out loud to the silence. As I rounded the corner and caught a glimpse of the sun flickering on the river, I realized that when we disobeyed, we didn't just disobey a commandment. We disobeyed His goodness. We didn't just rebel against what He told us to do and not do; we rebelled against all that He had blessed. We wanted the one thing He said "no" to, and in wanting it, and trying to take it? We sacrificed all of the goodness He had poured over every thing that moves and breathes and lives and exists on the earth. 

And so here we are, the third week in Lent, talking about our helplessness. We disobeyed the goodness and sought our own way. We looked over what God had made and demanded that we own it, own ourselves, and forgot Him. And Lent brings this back in a sharp and painful way - on the road to the Cross we are forgetful and disobedient. Even on the way to Jesus we stray. Even in moments of being right next to Him we forsake Him.

What can be done, I wondered as I peered down the road before making my left turn. We can't heal ourselves. Lent proves that. We can't climb out of the hole with sweat and tears and hard work. We need His goodness and His grace every moment. In all of this, Christ preeminent. 

So can we pray together, across our own fields and valleys, in our backyards and over our dinner tables, that He would be in all of it?

Lord Jesus Christ, you are in all things preeminent. May we hear once again how You blessed the world and called it good. May we remember how You loved it so much that You entered it and moved in it and breathed its air and ate its bread, and promised to redeem it. May the grace of Your spirit which dwells in us teach us to magnify You, Christ, in all things preeminent. 

To You be the glory this Lent, and in each moment. Amen.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Empty (a five minute post)

Today I wanted to link up with the amazing, sensational Lisa-Jo over at The Gypsy Mama for Five Minute Friday. I'm slipping in late to the game, but I hope you come play along too, and let your words fly free.

This week the word is: Empty.

I wrote not long ago about being brave enough to be empty, and I wish I could keep filling a bucket with those words, pouring them over myself when the weeks run long or the time runs short, when I forget that it takes courage to admit emptiness.

But when we are empty, dear ones, we are also open - emptied of what has filled our schedules or our days, emptied of our expectations, emptied of our long agonizing plans or anticipations or anxieties. We are emptied sometimes so that we can be filled up with more, filled because our hearts have been stretched wider by emptiness.

I know that the emptiness can linger, and when you walk through the abandoned hallways your shoes make long echoes against the linoleum. I know that there is waiting in emptiness, a soft shadow of uncertainty that keeps us guessing. I know that there is impatience there, in my heart, and a longing for bright lights and clarity and fullness.

But I have this dream that out of our emptiness there is a bigger wholeness. Out of being emptied this week I'm overflowing with something new. Out of giving all that I have, I crawl back to the well and He offers to fill me again.

I wish I could wrap this up in a box for you and send it your way - that if you feel emptied by the week, if you feel anxious, if you feel weary, if you look in your heart and find nothing left? I want to promise that you are being prepared for something beautiful. 

I promise our emptiness will make us brave. 


Thursday, March 8, 2012

joy is fullness, letter fifteen, hilary to preston

On Tuesdays and Thursdays around these parts, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share the wonder of mystery, grace and our encounters with mercy. We hope to see you in the comments. Read the letter I'm responding to here.

Dear Preston,

The book contract! I wish you could see the smile I smiled at the thought of that arriving for you in the mail. I smiled as I prayed on my way home from Starbucks where I had tried (unsuccessfully) to finish my thesis over the weekend. I did, thankfully, finish it somewhere else. But I smiled wide and bright for you. That is a gift, a joy - and I hope that in the midst of pondering what it means and what you'll write and if you can even manage it - you'll smile bright and wide for yourself too.

I want to tell you a story from my week. It's silly on one level and incredibly not silly on another. It reminded me that, as you so beautifully said, He is the wind in the door that we do not see coming. He breaks through when we do not expect Him.

He broke through to me when I danced to "Glad You Came" in an apartment that is not mine, with a 10 month old girl who is also not mine, wearing my old jeans and a really purple cardigan. I put on the "Dance" playlist and I danced with her, holding her small hands and bobbing back and forth. We laughed and shrieked along to the music. We forgot that the windows were open and several guys in baggy sweatpants and jerseys looked at me like I had completely lost my mind. They couldn't see the joy on our faces. 

I danced and she laughed. She laughed a belly laugh I could hear echo inside me. And I laughed too. We shimmied our shoulders and our hips and jumped around until we were exhausted. Then we sat down on the floor and played with colorful cloth blocks. 

Why am I telling you this? God collided with me in a pop song with a 10 month old girl on a Tuesday morning. "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." We sell that joy so cheap. We don't count it as a gift. We don't chase after it. We don't even pray for it most of the time. 

We are so busy asking for all the things we don't have yet that we forget His joy is already full in us. That it overflows. His joy doesn't need a plan to be complete. 

I had a pop song with a serious beat, sunshine, a laughing girl in purple tights and a pink dress, old jeans and a purple sweater. I hadn't asked Him for any of those things. I'd asked for all sorts of other things - a floodlight into the future, a blueprint of how to stop being jealous and start rejoicing... and He met me in a pop song on a Tuesday morning. 

Do you think we can learn to let His joy be that contagious, that we catch it everywhere, with each small thing? Do you think grace might be that audacious, that it settles into our hearts when we are doing something so unexpected, even silly?

I think so. I really do. I'm praying for that joy to overwhelm you in some coffee shop some morning in chapter 4 of your book, when you feel like you have no idea how it all continues, and you're afraid of it continuing. I'm praying that the God who delights in our being, in our very existence, keeps meeting you on street corners while stopped at traffic lights, and in church pews, and in restaurants, and in ceramics class.

May we both keep learning that His joy is always fullness.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: A Life without A Plan

Today I'm linking up with Joy's life, unmasked, where we share the messy and the beautiful of our lives. We watch together as God works through it. I unmask through letters, but I hope you'll come share however you best tell the miraculous story of you.

Dear Hilary,

Can you help me? I feel like I'm walking on tiptoe through my life. Everywhere I look, there is something about to fall off the edge of the table, someone I should have called and didn't, someone whose birthday I'm forgetting or whose voicemail is sitting in my mailbox waiting to be listened to. I'm terrified that everywhere I'll go I'll break something, mess up, fail at life. I'm terrified that I'll never be the person I keep hoping I'll be - BUT I DON'T HAVE A PLAN, HILARY!


Dear Tiptoeing,

Can I first just say, Oh, I've been there. There is the place where it's oversleeping to get up at 7am. There is the place when the smallest thing makes you so angry that you almost explode into a zillion pieces. I wrote about pleasing people last week, if you read it, and I think you should head back and read. You see, I want to tell you about how little it matters that you don't have a plan. You write it in big capital letters across this letter. You whisper it to yourself in the mirror as you walk by, right? I don't have a plan for the future. I don't know what's next. 

You don't have to be guilty about that, you know. You think I'm crazy. You think that everyone who has gotten where they are, everyone you admire, has had a plan. You feel safe with a plan. This graduate school, to this job, to this house on this street with this many kids. Your plan is the security blanket of making it all happen. 

And now you don't have one. And you write to me because you're wracked with guilt over the list of people you didn't reach out to, the birthdays and the voicemails and the whole hot mess, as my Southern self would say.

My biggest regret, Tiptoeing, is this: I prayed for a plan without any praise for life. I wanted subpoints,  structure, year-by-year breakdown of where I would live and what I would do. But, my dear, we do not live by plans. We live by living.

I regret wanting a plan when I already had a life. I regret wishing for more organization when I could have been out rushing into the waiting arms of a good life, right here, right now. I sat in front of to-do lists. I sat in front of Post-it notes and wrote on them all the things I needed to do, must do, had to do. I said there would be time to live beauty when I was married. I said there would be time to enjoy a Flannery O'Connor story when I had finished my PhD in history. I said there would be time to pick up and move to Italy or spend weeks on a roadtrip to Nashville or write a full-length play when I had a plan. But the time to do those things is not when they are on the itinerary. It is when they catch your heart and carry you.

Praise life. Praise the fact that there are 24 hours in a day. Praise that there is enough time for a chai and a drive with your best friend. Praise that there is falling in love and breaking our hearts and being angry and forgiving. I yearned for a structure, but forgot the life that fills it.

You, sweet friend, have a life. A good one. A beautiful one. Without a plan.

Wouldn't you rather the life?

Life: Unmasked

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Restored Life (The Second Sunday of Lent)

So hold fast, children of the Father, and look with eagerness and reverence towards the Resurrection. 

We settle onto the beds, blankets heaped around us in piles, sheets scrunched at the bottom. The springs creak as we shift our weight, and she looks at me from across the sea of books and papers and broken pencils and unworn outfits. She wants to know what I think about the atonement. She wants to know how I understand it. What that cross and the man stretched out on it mean for this world, for our hearts.

I take a deep breath. Who am I, Father? I tell him in my head as I start talking. Who am I to speak these words about you? But the words flow like a stream from somewhere else, and as I speak, I lean in to hear the story He's telling us both.

I find myself talking about being rescued. How in the Orthodox Church, sin and death are emphasized as disease, the consequences of our turning away and our disobedience. Christ comes to rescue us from this condition - to trample down death by death. He comes to restore life to us.

I talk about how the Incarnation blesses our bodies - blesses pregnancy, and neediness, learning and growth spurts, feelings of hunger and frustration and yearning for more. Because He came. He came to be God with us, I say to her, and I tear up at these words. He came to bless again this created goodness. To participate in it. To restore its original glory.

It is Lent, and so we bend our hearts before the Incarnation as we remember that He chose this way to save us. What a paradox it is: the way of the Cross is the way of glory. The child in the manger is saving the world.

It catches hold of my heart this week: He is here to restore life, not to whisk us away from it. He doesn't want us to live in contempt of the beautiful world He has made; only in contempt of what is hardened, disobedient and destructive. Because He entered this world and blessed blood and sweat and childbirth, and grew up in the world, and died for the life of the world. He comes with healing in His hands. He comes with new life.

So Lent is about restored life. Lent is about discovering where we are sick, desperately so. I am jealous and prideful. I am greedy. I am impatient. I am disdainful. As we name these diseases we bring them before Him, Physician of our souls and bodies. And He heals us.

This week, as we continue to walk in the way of repentance, yearning for Easter, may we remember that the journey is about life, restored to us in full.

Pray with me, from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious
to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them
again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and
hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ
thy Son; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and 
reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

i think i am rooted, letter thirteen, hilary to preston

On Tuesdays and Thursdays around these parts, Preston and I write letters back and forth. We share the wonder of mystery, grace and our encounters with mercy. We hope to see you in the comments. Read Preston's last letter to me here.

Dear Preston, 

I have a confession: I think I am rooted. 

I realized it this past weekend, when a dear, close friend and I had dinner and talked. We talked about this journeying with Christ, what Ash Wednesday means, how mercy is, as you said, absurd and wonderful all at once. She asked me how I knew what I knew, how I could understand and trust this Jesus. 

And I told her a story. A story about being rooted in encountering Him. A story about failing my driver's permit test the first time around, five years ago and crying hysterically in the car on the way home because I heard the voice of God say, "Hilary, I am real." I told her how I weep at the stoplight of the intersection in my hometown where I heard Him pray inside me, heard His spirit moving across the waters of this small heart. I told her a story about meeting Him. 

I laughed, my eyes growing wider as I talked, because I realized with such a sudden, ridiculous certainty that this is it. Have you ever had one of those moments - where you realize with a start that you're far deeper in it than you imagined? Maybe even far deeper in it than you wish sometimes. 

I'll confess, too, because I think you will understand: there are days I long to uproot from all of this. I long to make my own winds, set sail away from the hard teachings and the difficult obedience, set sail away from a heart that aches with the broken world, and a hope that believes He is healing it. I imagine how free I will feel, all my life my own, all my dreams my own, all my decisions my own.

But the first confession wins over the second. Because each moment I long to uproot, I remember His voice in my ear. I remember how He prayed inside me. I remember that He has touched my life. And so I bend my head and my heart again, and I ask for grace, again. Because I'm rooted. I can't go anywhere away from Him. 

What was it He told us, in the Psalm we hear so often?

 Where can I go from your Spirit? 

   Where can I flee from your presence? 

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
   if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
even there your hand will guide me, 
   your right hand will hold me fast. 
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me 
   and the light become night around me,” 
even the darkness will not be dark to you; 
   the night will shine like the day, 
   for darkness is as light to you.

You have helped me see this, you know. In your letters, and your words on your blog. You have helped me learn that even in the midst of anxiety and doubt, we can't really flee from Him. You sit in church with your questions and uncertainties in your pocket, and the Holy Spirit tugs at your heart. I sit in the Chapel listening to an Ash Wednesday talk, and I'm flung back against my pew with the truth. You paint your life with wild grace. You remind me - remind us all - that even when we think we wish to flee, we are rooted. Thank you. 

So I think I am rooted here, in and among these voices and words, in the Word made Flesh who says, abide in me. I'm rooted here, trembling as I imagine pulling out a hymnal next to St. Teresa of Avila or Flannery O'Connor or Madeleine L'Engle, raising our voices in song to the God who has planted such tender seeds in all of us. Can you imagine it, this great chorus that resounds across time, a field of wild, spinning flowers who bend with the wind, but remain steady in the ground? 

It's good to be in this field together. 

Love, and grace upon grace, to water you where you are planted, 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...