Thursday, April 26, 2012

the ache is His, too, letter twenty-nine, 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 hear from you in the comments and imagine with you about this walking out in faith. Read the letter I'm responding to here, and another beautiful piece by Preston you must read here.

Dear Preston,

Peace I leave with you, my own 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. 

I read your letter and then your life, unmasked, before I had the chance to sit down at my own computer to type back to you a small piece of this week, of this bigger journey of grace, of hunger. And when I read your life, unmasked, and I thought about what I can possibly say, because what your words point to is delicate and unsayable (yes, Rilke's words sit next to me) - and I am insufficient.

Your heart hurts because you love your thesis in deep and unsayable ways. You gave yourself to the work, as we are commanded to do. You stretched farther, and challenged yourself, challenged others to envision something beyond the traditional thesis, beyond the traditional so-called scholarly way. You forged a new path. You cleared branches and stumbled over unseen rocks. You were captured by a vision of something good and beautiful, and you followed it.

And I tell you the truth, that this will indeed be honored in unexpected ways.

I wonder if we who study and wish for ourselves academic titles and honors and responsibilities, if we forget how God sees us. I know He delights in our very being, in our existence. I know He delights to see His children inch pieces of the puzzle together. I know He delights when we learn. But I don't think that delight is measured very well by academic honors. By grades or comments or critiques. I don't think God's pure delight in how you journeyed towards Him over the past year is measured by any of the measuring tools we love from our perches in this strange ivory tower.

He delights to watch us be. He has been delighting all along. And so I whisper to you, and slip this note through the URLs and the trackbacks to you: He who takes great delight in you will honor your work. 

For there is no waste in God's economy. Even our aches are His. Even our broken bones and disappointed hopes. Even our falling down. He gathers us up, our fractured and chaotic selves, and delights in us. Nothing has been wasted; nothing has been lost. I'm convinced of this. I'm convinced that even though everything I say is insufficient, He is not.

The ache of this is His, too. And He offered us peace in the midst of our fears. He offered us His own peace, not as the world gives but as He gives. The ivory tower cannot give peace. It can give the most tentative, fearful, hesitant, we-could-lose-it-at-any-second affirmation. But it cannot give to us the peace which passes understanding.

He holds our aches and offers us peace. And I pray that you hear Him in these next days, still with His offer to give not as the world gives, but to give you His own self.

He who delights in you will hold and transform your ache into something beautiful. He will honor your faithfulness. He will bring peace to your heart.

May He be ever near you now.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: Lean Closer

Dear Hilary,

I grew up as a Christian. I love it. I love the church I go to. I love the people, and the way they recognize me and show me grace. I love the winks from the moms who knew me in pink and white sundresses talking into a gourd as if it was a phone, and have watched me grow into the person I am now. But as I head out into the world, as college ends, I wonder how to stay with this. I guess from reading your blog that you are a Christian, and that you love the Lord. How do you stay with Jesus, Hilary?

A bit adrift

Dear “A bit adrift”,

I wrote on this here blog once about my quiet story. A story about grace, and obedience, and the long hard road of walking towards Christ. I wrote that story because I wanted to remind myself how I’m in love with God. I wrote it so that when I wanted to stray most, I would stay near to Him.

I write to stay near to God. I get on my knees in strange spontaneous moments in my room at 6:30 in the evening and clench my fists hard as I pray. I lie in bed, trying to fall asleep, and ask God all sorts of questions about my day, about the people who have touched my life, about the things I love most. I talk to the ceiling and then to the wall, and then to the inside of my pillow. I ramble. I listen to music.

And I think you must lean hard into the wind and the rain of your life, instead of away from it. When you sit through difficult conversations – the ones where people are hurting and angry and your words don’t really heal them – and say, “Where is God?” I think you are asking a good question. When you look around you at the pain of the people you love, the pain in your own heart, and ask God, "Why?" it's a good question. When you're tired and frustrated and angry, and you ask God, "Who are you?" you are asking a good question. But when you ask, love, lean towards an answer, not away from one. Ask, “Where are you, God?” and believe that He is going to answer you.

I don’t think there is anything really miraculous about staying with Jesus as you leave old places and enter new ones. It’s always and ever only a story about grace, in the end. How He gives you the privilege of knowing His people, and journeying with them. How He comes close to you in the agonizing moments of disappointment and the fullest moments of joy. How you know His name because He called yours first.

As we head out towards the world, sweetheart, I think we stay with Jesus by letting His grace keep us close. I think we stay with Jesus by falling a little in love. This is a story about wind, and rain, about strange new things and beautiful hard things. This life of yours is gorgeous and full of grace.

We stay with Jesus by leaning closer.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Why I Kick Off My Shoes (for family)

His tears are hot and angry when I come home late that night. My day (and my woebegone overly-emotional self) evaporate when I see him curled in the big brown easy chair. Mom and younger brother #1 have briefed me on the situation - the beloved iPod snatched out of his locker, the headphones so carefully, carefully saved for and explained and prized gone. And so younger brother #2 sits in the chair staring at the Bruins and I gasp for words like a fish gasping for water.

"I'm so sorry." 

It's completely insufficient and we both know it, his eyes narrowing and his body twisting away from me as I try to hug him to no avail. And then my ends fray and I start trying to talk him down from justice in his own hands tomorrow and talk about confronting and how he wants to act before he thinks anymore and I yell, not loud but insistent, that this isn't safe, to talk this way, and it's dangerous to do this and he shouldn't...

And I realize as I spew the words out of my mouth that my youngest brother is braver than most adults I know. Because every day he wades through adolescents who are fearful and from their fear pours mean words and backtalk and gossip and anger and whispered rumors. And it wasn't so long ago that I was there too.

I remember how friends became enemies on the 4 minute bus ride home, because they "didn't want to talk to you anymore" and how easy it was to tell that secret but swear in the hushed slumber party hair braiding circles that no, you'd never tell. And the next day the secret was gone and I wondered too, like my brother, why God let it happen, and why He didn't stop it? Why? And I remember the wounds on tender teenage hearts, when so-and-so decided lunch was not a time to speak to you and I ate alone, or hid in the computer lab doing work. And I remember tearful diary entries when he or she chose someone else to be their girlfriend/friend/lab partner, or how I too often clung to the group instead of holding my hand to the shy ones in the corner the way I thought about, holding out love and curiosity and friendship.

So after he stalks to his room, angry and reeling, I do the only thing I feel like my heart tells me to do. I kick off my shoes. I peel back the covers. I crawl in. I put my arm protectively around him and I say, "I'm here, and I love you." We lie there for a while, the hum of the fan a gentle music. And I watch him, and am amazed that I have the privilege of being in his life - that the word sister can be what he calls me.

I kick off my shoes and I drop my purse and make my arms as wide and warm as possible, because my brother is brave. Because when words falter, the most I can do as his sister is kick off my shoes and snuggle into bed with him, and stop what I'm doing in my day and stop everything, just so that I can say "I love you" to the bravest among us.

In the world where everything logical falls apart at the first touch: the little child in the manger is the only giver of Life, the whole Kingdom of Heaven is a mustard seed, and the infinite is only ever found in the smallest moment - this is the world where kicking off your shoes and crawling into the sibling space and whispering I love you is the only thing to do.

May we love one another.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

He keeps me tender, letter twenty-seven, 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 hear from you in the comments and imagine with you about this walking out in faith. Read the letter I'm responding to here.

Dear Preston,

I prayed for you yesterday, wet hair flying behind me as I part scurried, part meandered, towards work and the long afternoon. I prayed that you would be unselfconscious, just as Madeleine L'Engle says we should we when we are truly in our art. I prayed that your words would flow freely and that you would speak only, and always, the good words that never return void or empty.

I was thinking as I fell asleep last night about this one time that I helped my mother in Sunday School. At our church the 3-6 year olds are together for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a wonderful Montessori-style, contemplative, independent working room with things to touch and smell, work that requires hands as open as our hearts. There is one of the Good Shepherd and the sheep, with real carved wooden sheep in all different sheep colors, and a man carrying a sheep on his shoulders.

This particular week, I had been rubbed raw by difficult conversations and too much thinking. I'd been inside my head, trying to reason my way out of a problem, trying to fix my feelings, talk myself into being happy again.

And a hand, sticky with bits of glue and purple construction paper, found mine. "Let's see the Good Shepherd!" she proclaimed to me, pointing towards the small table. I let her take my hand and lead me to the small table where she could sit on her knees and I scrunched down, sitting cross-legged. She opened the small wooden gate and began to parade the thin wooden sheep in and out. They bounded over each other and frolicked, a few of them tripped as they came leaping out of their sheep pen. I read to her the simple words from John. How the sheep know his voice. How they follow the Good Shepherd. She paraded her sheep in and out, and they talked to each other a bit. The Good Shepherd and his small smile, lamb on his shoulders, finally led them all back inside.

And because the atrium (that's what they call the classroom) is a place where work becomes prayer, and the Holy Spirit inspires answers from the littlest ones, I asked a last question, "Who is the Good Shepherd?"

She looked at me, almost disbelieving I would ask her. "JESUS!" she shouted back. "Jesus is the Good Shepherd!" Oh. My heart, all raw and aching, stopped. What a sight it must have been: a four year old girl walking wooden sheep around a table, and an eighteen year old girl, hand on heart, who can't catch her breath at that answer. Oh. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. 

He keeps me tender this way, Preston, through the simple answer I so often avoid. He keeps my heart in the palm of His hand. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who carries the sheep. That day, looking at all those wooden sheep in their parade, I realized that sometimes I'm the one on his shoulders.

He is strong enough to carry us. I forget that. He is strong enough to keep us tender in our raw moments, tender in our sadnesses and joys and singing.

He carries me on His shoulders. 

And behold, He makes all things new, and He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Love (and prayers for the presence of the Good Shepherd),

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: You Carry It With You

This week I'm linking up with the wonderful Joy over at Joy in this Journey. We write life, unmasked to share the raw and real about our lives. We write to tell the stories of the mess and the beauty. Won't you come share your stories, too?

Dear Hilary,

Do you ever feel like things just... happen to you? Like you're standing still, in the middle of a crosswalk in downtown Chicago and the cars are whizzing by? I graduate in four weeks. I walk across a stage and out of a life I've had, and it feels like what I do here, as I inch nearer and nearer to that stupid stage, I'm just watching things happen to me with no idea how or why, or what they mean. And I'm scared out of my mind that none of this life I've had here will mean anything.


Dear Graduate,

The woman who single-handedly changed my belief about life and writing, and getting on the floor and doing it anyway, is (as you all know), Dear Sugar. Her other name is Cheryl Strayed, and she writes beautiful books, that you should probably read. I reread some of the things that she wrote when I was trying to think about what to say to you today. So many of us, not just when we graduated college, wonder about whether any of "this" life will come with us when we leave. If I leave Dallas, TX for Paris, France, will any of Dallas come with me? If I leave childhood behind, if I go to a private school, if I break up with my boyfriend or girlfriend or fiancé, if I become a lawyer or a pediatric nurse or a potter, will any of who I was before I was {blank} come with me?

Sugar says this:

The most terrible and beautiful and interesting things happen in a life. For some of you, those things have already happened. Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.

She's right, Graduate. Whatever happens to you belongs to you. It really does. If it's painful conversations about honesty and truth, if it's afternoons learning how to skip rocks on a pond down the street from your house. If it's terrible. If makes you ache. If it's beautiful. If it makes you sing. Whatever these four years of this school have held? You will always carry that with you. 

So too with the people who now whizz by you as you stand on the downton crosswalk. Some of them, you'll need to open your hands and let them leave in a bigger way, let the relationship change in bold brush strokes. Some of these people you'll continue to walk alongside, across continents and time zones and the aching and the singing. Some of these people will surprise you how they enter your story, and allow you to enter theirs. In all of it, it didn't just "happen to you." It is the one life you have. You carry it. 

I'm tempted to tell you that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a letter to you (even though he didn't, exactly). But he wrote to someone who was thinking and worrying just like you are. It's Letter Eight. Go read it. Let his comforting words about the world that is not against us, about trusting what is difficult and loving what seems impossible carry you, too.

These next four weeks fly, with terrible and beautiful and interesting things that will happen to you and to the ones you love. You will become more of what you are meant to be. In these next four weeks, in the four after that, in the two hundred weeks after that. Do not be afraid of losing its meaning, because the meaning will go with you.

You walk across a stage and into your life. The precious, difficult life you had before. The meaningful life. Let Sugar and Rilke and me remind you: you carry it with you. You always will.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Visible Love (The Second Sunday of Easter)

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery
established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all
who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body
may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

That we may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. I roll those words around on my tongue. Show forth in my life, what I profess by my faith. But what do I profess? What should show forth in my life?

And I turn open the crisp pages of Rilke, looking for an answer, something, to build these last four weeks of college around.

And Rilke writes,

"Ever again, though we've learned the landscape of love
and the lament in the churchyard's name
and the terrible, silent abyss where the others have fallen;
ever again we walk out, two together,
under the ancient trees, ever again find a place
among wildflowers, under heaven's gaze." (Uncollected Poems)

And I can hear the midst of our Easter celebrations a call towards more visible, profound, daily love. A call to walk out together under ancient trees and relearn the landscape of love. 

Isn't Easter about how all things are made new in Him who is no longer dead, but alive? Doesn't this Resurrection life change the landscape of our love?

I want to show forth love in my life. I want to write letters to people who I hold close to my heart. I want to walk around the Quad on a Tuesday afternoon just because it's a beautiful day, and there is enough time to do beautiful things. I want to find a place among wildflowers.

I want to write more poetry in these next four weeks and laugh loudly with my roommate early on a Sunday morning. I want to have my heart stopped at another writer's words. I want to wear cowboy boots and a red sundress and drink iced tea and lemonade with the people who have shaped my life. I want to cradle a mug of chai and look at you and realize that of all the good gifts in all the years, there isn't anything quite like the gift of knowing you. 

(mandie sodoma - I'll never be able to say enough thank you's for this picture)

Can we relearn the landscape of love in these next four weeks?

Because this Easter life, this Resurrection joy? It's about living visible love. These next four weeks will fly, and we'll wear the robes and march down the bright green lawn, out towards our future. These next four weeks we can fill with worry, with anxious plans and second guesses. We can fill them with misunderstanding or hurt, with broken bones and egos and hearts. And perhaps those things will always arrive, despite our best efforts.

But we can also live these next four weeks loving each other with fuller hearts. We can live like kites set free on the breeze, joyful and unafraid. We can choose life over plans, people over post-it notes, knowing our hearts over double checking our to-do lists. 

Come with me, and find a place among the wildflowers, and live the Easter life?


Thursday, April 12, 2012

because I'm foolishly in love, letter twenty-five, 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 Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia. There is such a beautiful and good call and response hidden in there, such a good, and beautiful echo from priest's proclamation to congregation's singing. I love that in the Easter season all the hymns are filled with Alleluia. After hiding that word from our vocabulary in Lent, how joyful it is to shout it, and whisper it to each other, and pray it?

I'm so glad that the time with your friends was filled with joy. I think I can understand a small part of that, because when I'm with my family I'm reminded that God is absurdly generous with His people. He gives us each other for the journey, and each other for the long hard road of obedience. He gives us tables filled with friends and family and ice cream sundaes on Easter night. He gives us long conversations that take hours over chais, where we learn the contours of our beating hearts. He gives us each other, Preston.

And then, just when the gift is too much for my small hands to wrap around? I realize He gives us Himself.

And I'm foolishly in love with Him. I'm in love with how He appears to us in baptism prayers over infants, and on the long run around Coy Pond in the grey early morning light. I'm in love with how God's goodness cannot really be dissected, but entered. I'm in love with His faithfulness. How He promises to be with us always to the end of the age, and I keep turning around to find that He is keeping that promise.

Preston, God found me in Mississippi this weekend in a small Orthodox church. He stirred inside me and instead of anxiety, which I usually feel, He brought peace. I stood off to the side, my black pencil skirt and flats feeling out of place in the colorful church, my hands kneading into each other. There wasn't much I knew in the service. But I sang anyway, my voice quivering.

And God said, Hilary, I see you. 

My heart stopped. How did He know that I felt so out of place? How did He hear me asking myself the question of if I'll ever really belong to God, really belong in church? How did that unasked question get answered?

But again, He said, Hilary, I recognize you. 

We find and learn that peace about peace by being still. We let His voice speak over our dark spaces and our bright ones. Sometimes I am not willing to let God give me peace. I think chaos is so much more exciting and interesting - I think it makes me more intelligent, to be chaotic and questioning. I think it makes me more "authentic" and "cool."

Maybe we learn that peace about peace by being foolishly and helplessly in love with God. Maybe we learn to accept His gift of Hilary, I see you by smiling widely to ourselves on the plane rides and the coffee dates and praying our love out loud.

Love, and every Easter blessing, and may His love abound and abide in all places,

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: Resist the Chaos

Dear Hilary,

I have this story about me and the Eastern Orthodox church. It's a story about impatience and eagerness and rebellion and love. It's a story about Mary, and icons and mercy. It's a beautiful story - hard to tell in some places, but good. And I felt a pull for the first time over the weekend back towards Orthodoxy. I don't know what it means. I'm scared of returning but I want to run forward. I want to become the right thing. I want to understand if this is what I'm supposed to do, if this is what God is calling me to do. But I don't want to mess it up again and rush in and out or think I know what I'm doing when I don't. What should I do, Hilary?

A sort of catechumen

Dear Sort Of Catechumen,

Some day I want you to write a book about your story. It sounds like what Dear Sugar calls your second beating heart - the thing inside you that calls out and demands to be recognized. The thing you cannot escape, however much you try. Orthodoxy entered your life; it changed you. It's okay to let the change be a beautiful and real part of your story. It is right that your story about Mary and eagerness and impatience and mercy and rebellion and icons and love is the story you're longing to tell us. And, sweet girl, that is the story I want you to tell us. 

But you aren't really writing to ask permission to tell the world the aching and beautiful story of your journey with Orthodoxy. You're asking what to do if a journey you thought was over isn't. You're asking, "What happens if I was done, but God was not?" The pull back towards Orthodoxy is the collision of your spirit with a beckoning from Him. And you want to know how to move forward.

Resist the chaos.

I hope that doesn't sound too harsh, love. I don't mean it to. But I do mean to speak freely and fully here, and I do mean what I say. Now is the time to be still. Now is the time to resist that delicious internal chaos we all love to make when a new possibility presents itself to us. That chaos will make it impossible for any real movement.

I'm willing to guess that a part of what happened in the first part of your journey with Orthodoxy is that you were not quiet. You let that delicious internal chaos run rampant over your decisions, your eagerness first toward and then away, over your conversations and longings and prayers. And that is the story you must tell yourself now, as a reminder that sometimes the only way forward is to stand still and let something else move inside you.

You do not need to worry about making it clear all on your own. Your anxious questions about "messing it up" or wanting to "become the right thing" are trying to take over the clarifying work that God already is doing and is capable of doing. He doesn't need you to tell Him if it's clear enough that you should be Orthodox. He doesn't need you to decide if you should be. He doesn't need you to hesitate because of your story. He doesn't want a chaotic heart.

He just needs you to keep still.

The "right thing" to become is one of Christ's sheep. The "right thing" to be running towards is the Son of God. The real pull behind every smaller one is a pull towards God. He loves you, Catechumen. That's the beginning and end and middle of the story.

In the Orthodox Church they pray for the catechumens during liturgy. Among the prayers they offer to God, they say: Save them, have mercy upon them, preserve them, and protect them, O God, by Thy grace.

Let His grace pull you forward. Let His voice be still, and small, and clear.

Resist that delicious chaos, Catechumen, and again and again in peace keep praying.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Miraculous Naming (Pascha, Easter Sunday)

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
  He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
   Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
  Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
   She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. - John 20.14 - 17

Today, the Risen One appears, glorious in the Resurrected Life. Today, He tramples down death by death  and wins for us the victory over the grave. Today, dear friends, He brings us new life!

And as we sit in our pews and around our dinner tables, as we smooth our ties and skirts, as we shuffle feet in their new sandals and clink our wine glasses - He calls us each by name. Today, as we celebrate, the Good Shepherd whispers into our hearts that He knows us. That He recognizes us in this bright new life. He names us - and the naming is the life.

Mary did not recognize Jesus when he found her. And it is a finding - he meets her, he encounters her. She is weeping for the loss, for the promise she believes has been broken by death. Where have they taken him? She wonders to the angels. I imagine her searching, anxious, looking in every direction while tears stream down her face and her hands knead into each other. Where have they taken him? Where is Jesus? 

And He comes to her. In that deep moment, the mystery shakes the universe. Just when we most believe that he is gone, he comes to us. Just at the moment I bring my eyes to the icon of Christ in blessing at the right side of the altar, in McComb, Mississippi, in the small Orthodox church? Just at the moment when I most believe I will never belong, He looks back at me. He comes to us. 

Jesus said to her, Mary. Jesus says to me, Hilary. 

And we turn, Mary and I, crying, "Rabboni!" "Teacher!" And we cry out in joy and fear and trembling. We fall to our knees at the sight of him. Because He names us. Because He knows us. Because He comes to us. 

And today, with Mary, I cry out to you: I have seen the Lord! 

And He has given me life. 

And the most blessed Pascha to you. 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

He is washing our feet, letter twenty-three, 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 write this to you at 5:20 in the morning, sitting in Terminal A of Logan Airport. I'm on my way to visit my mentor, who I've written about before, who's down near Jackson, Mississippi. It's a strange quiet grace to be sitting here, listening to The Low Anthem through my headphones and the rambling guitarist sitting twelve feet away. And I'm rereading your letter, thinking about the gap between what we think we know of this world, and what it is, what it must be. I think we forget the grace of imagination, because we put so much implicit trust in what we think, what we reason out from observation, what we deduce from the narrow avenues of our senses and data collection.

But imagination is grace to us, too, because my heart is unknowable to you, and yours to me, and yet through these words, we know each other. Imagination is what helps me see the woman next to me scrolling through spreadsheets, or the woman on the other side reading with her lips pursed, and realize they are whole, many-dimensioned and miraculous. Imagination, when it has its rightful place, teaches us to keep our hearts open to learning, because there is never a moment when the Truth ceases to surprise us.

The liturgy is the work of the people - imaginations as well as hearts as well as minds. The liturgy holds us wondering at this mystery. The liturgy reminds us that what we know is so small and dusty. You're right - we'll never have enough evidence, enough observation, to escape that shuddering, breathtaking moment of imagination and trust. This, this, Lord. This I believe.

And today is Maundy Thursday, and I realize all over again that it is this I believe: The God of the universe washed the feet of his disciples. The One who made us gets on His knees, pours water, scrubs off dirt. He didn't wait until we were worthy of that kind of love. He gets on his knees knowing where He is going. He gets on his knees already the offering. Preston - He got on his knees to wash our feet. 

Imagination is a grace to us, because I can't get my fingers around that kind of love. I know the love that is quid pro quo. I know the love that holds hands walking down the street. I know the love that listens close and patient, the love that repeats truth in dark moments. I can even get my mind around the love that trusts a separation and a departure is not the end.

But He got on his knees before the disciples and washed their feet. He loves with that kind of love. He loves with the aching humility and patience. I do not know what this is. But I know in the space between my heart that says Lord, I believe you and my mind that puzzles, He fills with grace.

Today, may you hear again how He cherishes you. May you remember that He is washing our feet. May your heart be filled with the grace to wonder at His love.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary: The Raw, Real You

This week I'm linking up with the wonderful Joy over at Joy in this Journey. We write life, unmasked to share the raw and real about our lives. We write to tell the stories of the mess and the beauty. Won't you come share your stories, too?

(photo, mandie sodoma)

Dear Hilary,

I read your blog sometimes, and I noticed that you talk a lot about contentment, being single, all of that. I have a question. How do you long for something like a boyfriend, or a relationship, without becoming consumed by it? How do you stop yourself from measuring who you are, your worth, your sexiness, your intelligence or beauty or goodness, by whether someone wants to date you? I so often feel like I want a boyfriend not because of the guy, but because of what he could affirm for me, what he could reassure me about. I think this is probably not good, and ultimately, not how a whole person lives. What advice do you have for me?

Trying to Be Content, but Not Really There


It's a tough thing to live in bodies. They're visible. We can only imagine so much about them. They're pulled in different directions by gravity, and they're blown around by wind. Hair gets messy when it's wet, and when we're tired we get these puffy circles under our eyes like small dark half moons. We can't really help it - our bodies are our bodies are our bodies. They are the home we have been given. They are the home of our hearts, those trembling and strong and fierce things, and of our minds.

I used to think I would look at my body differently if a guy told me it was beautiful. I really did. I begged on my insides for compliments. I craved hearing, "You look great today," in that off-handed way that people say it on their way to Calculus or French. I would lie in my bed staring up at the ceiling and wonder if a boy would dance with my at the Valentine's dance, or if I would spend it in a circle of girlfriends shouting the lyrics to "Yeah" by Usher while wishing a boy would dance with me.

I sang a lot of Usher in high school, love. And I spent a lot of time measuring. How many boys had a crush on her, I asked myself. How many times had she been told she was funny and smart and cool? How many people wanted to be her lab partner in chemistry or play opposite her in the play? I noticed way too much in high school about that. I took these small lies into myself, that there was only so much admiration to go around, and if they didn't say it to me, it couldn't be true for me.

You're right: this isn't how a whole person lives. I'm already glad that you know this, that you write to me because you realize that you want to live differently, and you aren't sure how. When I was in high school I didn't realize there was a different way. When I was a freshman, sophomore, or junior in college I was just realizing that it could be different. I'm still at the very beginning, with you. 

My advice is to take the tiny step forward of saying out loud to your mirror, "This is me." I want you to look at yourself, standing there, smiling or winking or yawning, and say it. This is me. Not that girl with the long brown hair, not that girl with the straight A's and a dictionary in her head. Not that girl who plays soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. This is you: raw and real, pulled around by wind and gravity, with your passionate beating heart and your laugh and your love.

You write worried that a guy doesn't see it, but I think the real problem is YOU don't see it. You can't look in that mirror and find the you that lives in you. So you get anxious - what if she's not there - and you start asking other people to find her. You say, "Am I beautiful?" a thousand times next to the mailboxes on the way to calculus class. You say, "Am I worthy?" to the smiling stranger on the Metro who doesn't even realize that his yawn and looking at his newspaper has potentially crushed your heart.

But the raw, real you is yours to find, not theirs. 

You have the task of believing that you are raw, and real, and sexy and worthy, with no one else on the planet telling you it is true. Don't ask others to do your work for you, sweetheart. I can tell you a thousand times that you are. But it's not my work. My work is to fill you up with love and strength. My work is to tell you to get in front of that mirror. My work is to laugh with you about the way that I danced by myself in a corner eating potato chips at high school dances.

Your work is to find that raw, real you. Your work is to love her. Your work is to believe.  

Life: Unmasked

Monday, April 2, 2012

our second beating hearts (the overdue seventh week)

The only way to make a writing dream come true is to write your way towards it. The only way to live with good words is to search for them, find them, and love them. So over here on Mondays, I share with you some of the good words I've found throughout the week, and some of my own scribbles. And together, we write the contours of our second beating hearts. 

It's been a little while, over here, but I wanted to share as we journey together towards Easter some of the posts that have meant so much to me in the midst of Lent. 

Good words I've read: 

Micha, who brought me to tears with this: Because grace is brave and it always wins
Emily, who teaches me to write bravely about what is hard: in which i struggle with being good enough
Emily, who reminds me why I love to tell stories: how to be a better storyteller
Lisa-Jo, who helps me see into the depths of mother-love: The one where I get all the presents on my daughter's first birthday
Preston, who reminds me that the faith is bright and wide and unexpected in us, with: because I need altar calls, letter twenty, preston to hilary

A poem to hear sounding this Holy Week:

Olive Grove (I), Rainer Maria Rilke

He went out under the grey leaves,
all grey and indistinct, this olive grove,
and buried his dusty face
in the dust of his hot hands.

It has come to this. Is this how it ends?
Must I continue when I'm going blind?
Why do you want me to say you exist
when I no longer find you myself?

I cannot find you any more. Not within me.
Not in others. Not in these stones.
I find you no longer. I am alone.

I am alone with everyone's sorrow,
the sorrow I tried to relieve through you,
you who do not exist. O unspeakable shame.
Later they would say an angel came.

And a small poem from me:

Inspired by Anne Sexton’s “From the Garden”

Put down your books,
your piles of ideas:
we think too often
to know anything.
The first leaf has blossomed.
Come with me;
watch oak seeds spread.
They tumble from the sky
like parachuters, nestling
between roots. Watch
the poppies burst open,
they strain at their moorings
like runaway canoes.
Watch the rain
become puddles.
Worms inch across the sidewalk.
Moths begin to haunt porch lights.
Put down your books. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Unseen Love (Palm Sunday)

It is Palm Sunday - the Sunday of the Passion. It is the moment we in the Church reenter an old story, a story we know almost too well. Today we ride with Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey. Today we lay palm branches, new and soft and green, at his feet.

But today we read the story aloud. We hold old copies of the script on red or pink photocopy paper, each whispering or shouting the old words. And then we all shout, one huge crowd in the red church: Crucify him! Crucify him! Because the One we hail is also the One we reject. The man who in one moment we call King, the next moment we send to a cross with a vengeance.

Sometimes I forget that I am that kind of hypocrite in my own life, too. I hear it on Palm Sunday in my neat Sunday best, hair wavy, not one thing out of place. I hear it echo through the Church, that we are hypocrites in the story. But I say, "that's so long ago." I say, "that's a part of the story from then, not now." I say, almost gleeful to myself, "I am so glad I'm not like that."

But this week, friends, this week Jesus Himself appeared, the heartbeat and the reminder. This week, as I rest my bare feet against the leather couches, or when I laughed skeptically at an idea, or when I stayed silent in a class when I could have spoken out for faith... the One I hail is the One I rejected. 

And He looks at me now, on Sunday morning, from the icon of the Christ of Mount Sinai. He looks at me, so knowing and so righteous, so filled with judgment and so filled with grace I can't keep looking at him. Palm Sunday is the Sunday of the King of the Jews, but it is also the Sunday where the grace of Christ goes forth, hidden underneath our hypocrisy. It is the Sunday where His love begins its journey to the Cross and we hail him in one breath and deny him the next.

And this week I let that grace go forth, without thanksgiving. This week, I sang with palm branches in one moment, and hoped that God really wouldn't notice or care that I said that horrible, mean, ungrateful thing that same day.

But the arms of Jesus are strong and mighty to save. They are mighty to save not just from death, but they are mighty to save us from hypocrisy. They are mighty to set our faces towards the Cross. They are mighty to shake us awake from our deceit.

This Holy Week, I pray He might shake us all awake from deceit, that we might recognize His unseen love. That we might set our faces to the Cross, knowing that to walk it with Him is to truly know life. I pray He might bend our hearts until they burst with His grace for this world, and that we might know forevermore that He draws the world unto Himself. 

Can we pray together, that His grace might overcome our blindness?

Almighty and everliving God, who, of thy tender love
towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the
cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his
great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the
example of his patience, and also be make partakers of his
resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.



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