Wednesday, December 10, 2008

For now, for now

For now, for now

The torrent is dammed.

The river races another channel

than the path down my face,

winding now in hidden caverns

in the echoing dark of my soul.

The raging, stormy waters that pooled

at my feet

and washed the black from my eyes—

Torn in anguished sobs and bitter pain

of yet-willing surrender—

This heaving flood has entered

a wider plain.

The fight shallows, the struggle calms

at the entrance to a broad


This river never dries, never ends, and

there are still tears that will well

Washing out the traces of pain, of

sorrow, gently carrying the broken

pieces of the toppled edifice

to a foreign god.

When at last they are washed away,

The final tears will bring balm

and healing, until only a place of

tender strength remains to mark the place

of the great battle and the great storm.

There are still tears to be cried

Gently welling, gently spilling

sometimes still in a burst of stinging pain.

For now, tho, for now,

The torrent is dammed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Puffy eyes.
Pale as death.
Couldn't hold up the weight of my mask today.
They saw, they cared.
Got thru seven hours, drove around.
More music, finished a tissue box.
Lots and lots of Psalms. Pink underlines and a Greek lexicon.
Pictures and prayer, spaghetti and garlic.
Internet made my heart race. Needles and yarn.
More music, more pictures, more words.
Pillow now, maybe dreams.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cemetery Revisited

Half a year ago I wrote the piece entitled Cemetery. I didn’t feel the need to go use a cemetery for cleverly disguised crying again until today. I tried a different one this time, one I’ve never visited and one in which I’ve seldom noted much traffic, pedestrian or otherwise. (In all fairness, the daily busyness of cemeteries is not something I spend a lot of observation on, anyway.) Well, I was driving home from Walmart, musing, and all of a sudden I started crying. Then a song came on the radio that just made me cry more, and since I was at an intersection directly facing said cemetery, I decided to pull over and indulge in a good cry in the warmth of the sunshine, magnified through the car windows. (The darkness of winter cold has descended upon my apartment; I do not expect to be warm in it again until May.)

Anyway, I pulled over, put on a good song, and sat musing. Just as those few dam-breaking tears slid down my cheeks, I noted a figure in the distance—a man walking a dog. Great, I thought, people? As the figure approached I discerned that both man and dog were of an elderly nature, evidenced by the man’s gaunt appearance and the dog’s rotund belly and decidedly wobbly walk. Fine, I concluded, old men have a right to walk their dogs on fall afternoons; it’s good they’re exercising. I gazed off into the distance, carefully nonchalant, until they passed. Then, just as I was recovering my tearful train of thought, I spied in my side-view mirror more figures—a woman in a tracksuit, shortly followed by a young mother with a stroller and obligatory baby. Seriously? I inquired of the air in irritation. Even here? What is this, a thoroughfare? Anyway, I feigned to be listening to music and hoped the freshly filled gravesite, close by my car, would inspire respectful understanding and avoidance. Two more figures in needlessly bright yellow also loomed in my mirror behind the mother and child. My blood pressure shot up for an instant; apparently I had chosen not a respectable resting place of bodies departed, but my town’s own favorite walking path. Blessedly, the garishly-clothed pair turned aside down another deathly avenue.

Finally, the stretch of mirror behind me was empty but of trees and monuments; the vista before my dirty windshield was filled with only the yet-unploughed greensward and the golden autumn sun falling through gloriously colored trees. Perhaps the rash of living persons thronging the cemetery was a momentary fluke. My song went on repeat and I gave all my attention back to musing and crying. Hard. Soothing tears rolled down my cheeks and onto my shirt, and I tucked my face beneath my hat brim and hand, and luxuriated in my sorrow. Just as I was getting to the really good sobbing…a tap on my window.

I paused for an instant. Surely it couldn’t be—had I not written a lovely piece on the sanctity of sorrow in a graveyard? Certainly no person could be so dense of feeling as to knock on the car window of stranger crying in a cemetery? I raised my eyes and lowered my hand. Sure enough, there was the blond hair and sympathetic face of the woman in the tracksuit. She couldn’t have just circled around and exited by way of the citrus-colored strollers—no no, she had to walk back past my car, just when I was distracted enough to stop paying attention. I flashed what I’m sure was a ghastly smile combined with a shake of my head meant to convey, I don’t want to talk, I’m fine, please go away. I ducked back beneath the shield of my hand.

She tapped again. WHAT! I thought madly, this is ridiculous! I looked up again, trying not to make eye contact (let’s face it, sanctity of sorrow or not, it’s rather absurd to be caught by a concerned stranger when you’re crying hard in what is apparently a very public place.) I gave her another facial contortion and shook my head, attempting to indicate that my actual state of being was much better than it appeared. She shook her head to keep my attention and mouthed, “I’ll pray for you.” I shook my head and gave her a thumbs-up to serve as an I understand and thank you and I don’t want to talk and I’ll be fine. I had instantaneously considered rolling down the window after the first tap but I didn’t want to talk to anyone! Gosh! Also instantaneous was the thought that since no one in my actual life knew I was sitting along crying in a graveyard, it was kind of nice that a perfect stranger walking by was kindhearted and would pray for me. I was rather miserable, after all. Well, Lord, I hope you’ll listen to her prayers, I said mentally, checking the rearview to make sure she was in fact retreating into the distance.

I really couldn’t return to my cry after that; it was so ridiculous as to almost cheer me up. Not quite; but really, if you at all value a sense of humor you have got to take note of the height of absurdity of a situation like that. I drove home.

There was still a little afternoon sunlight left, and I didn’t relish the idea of the arctic frigidity of my apartment (although there is thankfully a fairly safe bet of privacy in your own home if you’re in it alone.) At the last turn before home I briefly considered trying one of the other old cemeteries in my neighborhood. After all, I had been denied not only my cry and my privacy, but even my illusions of the sanctity of death had taken a blow; and, as the character in one of my old books was wont to say “A person must have some compensations.” But I thought there ought to be a limit even to the credulity of a hopeful person, and decided to just go home. When a person cannot even indulge in a good cry now and then without interruption, one must settle for chocolate.

Cemetery Revisited

(Written last summer.)

Living in the city in an apartment with no balcony and a porch that is also the entrance to first floor offices, finding a private space in nature can be difficult. Parks and college greens are not quite private enough when you want to do writing, praying, or listening to music that may involve tears or soul anguish. But recently I discovered a place perfectly appropriate to all such requirements—the cemetery. Even in the midst of houses, cars, and roads, a cemetery is usually a decent-sized piece of nature, often with a few comforting trees; and regardless of size, it has an inherent sense of quiet, reverence, and privacy.

 I realized the perfection of such a place a few weeks ago when, driving home, I felt a strong need to pull over and cry, listen to affecting music, and write in a notebook. Although the cemetery I pulled into didn’t have quite as many trees or quite as few (living) people as I might have wished, I quickly realized it didn’t matter very much. Who is going to think strangely of a person who sits moodily in their car—even if it is for an hour—in a cemetery? It is deeply, strongly, traditionally bound with a sense of the deepest feelings of the human heart. Graveyards represent death and yearning and longing and loss—and never is the human heart and spirit so susceptible to a spiritual awareness than in the presence of death.

 The mad, frantic pace of our modern lives may hurriedly and scornfully dismiss any weakness of feeling during daily life; but there is a strange sacredness that wraps an acre or two of grassy, monument-strewn land as with an ancient and untouchable forgiveness for humanity’s embarrassing but indelible tendency toward the unseen immortal. We do not often respect the poorly disguised symptoms of heartache in others—impatience, cynicism, ill-temper—but there is a feeling in most of us that true grief and heartbreak are worthy of our sympathy, our acknowledgement, our gift of a silent moment to another suffering person.

 Much of this may be seen in the days surrounding a death, in the long family hours of a funeral. Something of it lingers in the bittersweet sanctity of a cemetery. And so it does not seem strange that even if it is only to grieve a less-than-eternal death—one of hope or joy—or to weep from the exhaustion of confusion, that a heart seeking relief from the mandatory masks of the everyday may find a place in a daily week where grief observed will be respected, and sorrow will throb, gently dignified, by the side of a graveyard path. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Kids

Oh, there is so much in my heart. Music and poetry and sunshine and shade. Longing and fulfillment, and knowing that I am growing to understand something I did not understand when I was younger. A heart so full can hardly be full of only one thing, but the one that comes to the fore today – I am in love with my children. I work with the youth group at my church, and although I do not yet have any children of my own body, I can hardly say I do not have any of my own. I call them my kids. Even, I imagine, as a parent who aches over a child who does not want a relationship with that parent, my heart goes out over some of these who do not trust me enough to really let it all down. I don’t suppose I could fix much for them, but I could love on their sorrows and comfort their shaken little hearts. I long to do so—and when they let me close I yearn over them even more.

 And that is what I didn’t understand before—what it means to yearn over a child. Yearning for someone is different than yearning over someone. The first is wanting, to fill emptiness, the second is wanting to pour out from a fullness, as well as desiring a response.  Today the kids led the service in church, and my heart almost overflowed, there was so much in it. Much of it was God, Himself, but so much of it was tied up in thanks to Him for who He made them, and how proud I was of them. Sometimes people say to me that they don’t know how I can spend so much time working with teens, that they could never do it. I reply that I love them, and that is why I should be the one to do it. Of course they’re ridiculous and silly and they don’t know a blessed thing, but my seniors in high school are saying that the 6th graders are little kids, and are not the people my parents’ age saying that I, at a babyish 29, also do not know anything about life? It’s OK that they’re teens.

 And I do love them so. All this year God has had me conscious of issues of mothering, of parenting, and though I think I have more questions than answers, some of the answers come in my interactions with my kids. The Bible talks about how there are many, many teachers, but few Fathers—few who parent truly, deeply, personally. Few who pour their lives into the growing of others’ lives, few who bring life for others from the giving of their own lives. Has there ever been a person like that in your life? Someone with whom you feel it is not only safe, but perfectly acceptable, to be you? When I think of the perfect parent, I think of someone who knows me all the way through, is inherently delighted in me because our relationship involves belonging, someone with whom I can be completely honest even if it’s ugly, someone who is bigger and wiser than me, who can handle it when I’m in bad shape. Someone that I don’t have to take care of, but who takes care of me. That’s the kind of parent I want to be.

 And at least as a start, that’s how I feel about my kids—they delight me. They’re all different, there’s so much diversity in their potential, and even when they’re foolish or less than well behaved, I don’t love them less. In fact, it’s when they’re real—bad or good, that I yearn over them most. When I see them determinedly walking down a path I know will cause them pain, I ache for that pain, because I have learned lessons the hard way myself, and I would spare them if I could. When they open their hearts in honesty, let me in, or walk in the path of blessing that I see lies before them, my heart rejoices, and I yearn over them like I did this morning. When the littler ones come to me for hugs and kisses it swells my heart so that I hardly know what to do with it, and when the bigger ones act the same way, but in their shyer, cooler teenager-way, I smile in amusement and ache to see them grow into men and women who are strong and remember gentleness.

 There’s no profound or clear point I'm making today—just musings on love and questions of how very great, how very much more there is in this life than we take the time to learn. I hope that someday I will find that the love I have for my kids was worth even partially as much to them as loving them is to me. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Lacy Net of Silver


Tonight, my heart is yearning. I have not been unhappy, I was adequate and useful and cheerful and even productive today. I feel I handled all my situations with sufficient grace, and I hope that I was able to bless, just a little, the ones with whom I spent time. All the things I wanted to cross off my list are not crossed. The time I wanted for myself, I haven't gotten yet. I think I have managed one day without overreacting to my emotions or making myself a fool out of them. I wonder what I would think of me if I looked from the outside.

 Since I cannot, I still yearn. Because I am fond of the perspective I have today, I will not pin all my yearning on one thought or object, as I do some days. That one place may or may not be the fountainhead of my yearning tonight, or maybe...maybe it is only one fountainhead of a network of rivers and springs and trickles which, seen from far above, weave an intricate, lacy net of flashing, delicate silver. 

 Tonight I could call this yearning many things: the ache of watching a loved one or a stranger grope in the dark for an answer they imagine they do not want to find, the desire to move beyond the limits of my fear into all the possibilities of my dreams. The bashful wondering of whether, when the time comes, will I be what I should be? and what, if I had tried much harder or much less, could I have been now? I could call the yearning the unnamed reason a baby's smile can push back the clouds of misery, or I could call it the exhaustion of trying to puzzle out the ways of God. I could call it the feeling of wanting a friend to be there or a mother to soothe, or a father to stand, always protecting, in the very back of the picture, waiting in patient watch. I could call it the pleasure so deep it is pain, and pain so exquisite you wish it never to end, and the reason the smell of an old, old memory brings joy to the heart. 

 I could call it the emptiness when I wish for your voice and do not hear it, and I could call it that most curious and mysterious of human traits, that would not wish away even the ache or the longing.  

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Many Useful Uses of Mattresses

I would like to talk about mattresses. Mattresses are our friends for many reasons, not the least of which involves the comfort they provide us for sleeping.

Sleeping is very important. For one thing, sleeping gives you a break from working, doing laundry, raking leaves, putting away groceries, listening to voicemails, and breathing.

Wait, no, not breathing. That’s very important. If you don’t breathe you will die. So sleeping makes you not die. Well, actually, that was going to be my next point.

I think.

What were we talking about?

Oh yes, mattresses. Well, anyway, like I was saying, mattresses are good for other things besides sleeping. Although if you can get a good night’s rest fairly often, it will in fact keep you from sickening and dying earlier than later. Unless of course you are run over by an 18-wheeler, or a pride of rabid lions, or a herd of raging wildebeests. 

Yes, so, other than providing what we have clearly seen to be lumbar-support that is none other than vitally imperative for the continuation of our species, mattresses are good as vehicles. When my brother and sister and I were still children, my dad would bring home all manner of random things that had been discarded at the resort where he was employed. I specifically remember a shovel, those cotton-weave blankets that we referred to as “hospital blankets” until we were far too old not to have known that “hospital blanket” was not their proper designation, and The Mattresses.

Really, these mattresses were not especially designed for lumbar support as much as they were designed not to ever, ever, let your back feel like it was on the floor. Stuffed with padding. Dense, such that I have actually slept on cement that was more forgiving. And they were clearly meant for rough usage, because they were encased in such thick, child-retardant plastic casings that they could most likely have been used as life rafts in the event that the river adjoining the resort ever flooded. In any case, I see clearly as an adult that the things would likely have lasted until the Last Judgment had it not been for the imagination of childhood. One day it occurred to us, brilliantly, that the unusually narrow proportions of these mattresses, and their slippery plastic casings, made them the perfect vehicles for sliding down the stairs.

I would have tried to make that setup more dramatic, but if you’ve ever known children you will not find the idea of them riding mattresses down staircases surprising. It was wonderful and fast and exhilarating.

My mother, however and despite her acquaintance with us, her children, managed to be surprised. I believe her reaction went something like this: “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?!” Ah, but we soon had her broken in. By the time summer came around and we dragged that thing out to the pool deck to make a slide, she hardly noticed.

Anyway, mattresses are also good for exercise. In my college years my grandmother, who I credit with six-elevenths of my housecleaning-training (my mother gets the other five-elevenths), bragged that I was the only one with the magic ability to single-handedly turn, lift, and flip her queen-size mattress for its seasonal rotation. I credit my unique abilities to youthful pride and strength, as well as the fact that my job at the time, although technically that of a cleaning lady, frequently involved moving furniture and would more accurately have been labeled a cleaning-lady-personal-assistant-housekeeper-jack-of-all-trades-SUPER-furniture-mover job. Anyway, I was tough.

 I though about this, and about mattresses, today, as I single-handedly turned, lifted, and flipped our king-size mattress (I also took out the air conditioner—you can’t always wait for a man to be around if you’re on a roll). I thought about them some more while I wrestled the queen-size sheets onto the king-size mattress, mentally picturing the day the fabric will finally rend with a sickening tear and send me violently catapulting, backwards into the wall. I thought about how mattresses are good fodder for writing silly blogs. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I think I have learned the beginning of a beautiful lesson from a Faery story. I was never allowed to read Faery stories when I was a child; my mother, who dabbled in the black arts before she was Found by the light, was cautious of mysterious power and taught us to shun its charms.

 But what I have seen now, many years later, is that the charms of the dark powers are only a corruption of the powers of Light, just as everything hurtful here in this world is only a twisted image of the original glory. That there is darkness with strength does not mean we ought to shun all strength.

 George MacDonald’s Phantastes has touched my heart—along with other influences, which are, I think, convened at the proper time, to tell my heart something healing. If I were a writer of Faery I would name this something else; I would see the poetry that is the real name of the prose I must use for now.

 What I think I begin to learn on this night is this: I need not despise my heart for its yearnings. That it yearns only proves it was meant for something great and deep; that it aches is evidence it was meant to be healed. That a grown man and strong should write so often of the blessed rest found in mother’s arms, or the healing and soothing touch of a gentle hand, of the most essential comfort only found on the safety of the maternal breast—that a knight and a warrior should unashamedly yearn for and rejoice in this—must I do any less?

 I never thought I possessed the gift of the Poets. I never fancied myself among the Seers. But this story tells me that I am among its lovers—that I can understand it at all must mean I may learn its lesson. That there is so much more we may see, although we look so long. That the poems are the soul of the prose, just as this world is but a dim echo of the next—that even in the cloudy shadow of this world there is rose shot with light, and crimson glory.

 My lesson for now is that I may triumph or fail, I may stand tall or weep like a child, but that I yearn for the crimson glory and the mother’s breast—that I yearn at all is enough, and is not to be despised.  

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What If I Could Say

What if I could say to you all the things I wish I could say to you—all the things that come from love? What if we could all say those things to each other? And what if we knew it came from love, and so we wouldn’t get terribly hurt or angry. What if we could hear it in the same gentle, yearning tones from which it issued from a friend’s heart? 

Watch out.

 You need to let this go.

 You need to see a professional.

 This thing is hurting you.

 When you do this, it makes me hurt.

 You need to do the hard thing.

 I’ve had them said to me. They were said in love, gently, not in condemnation. When I heard them in the tones of love they didn’t hurt as badly as they could have. I’m glad I heard them, because I needed to. If I had gone on without hearing them—refusing to hear them—it would have made my life smaller, my soul devoid of luster, and my world the size of my pain and my pride. Heeding them led me through places of more pain, but pain that brought health and release instead of the suffocating complacency of denial.

 We don’t like these things. We don’t want to say them and we don’t want to hear them. We labor under the delusion that all our friendships must be always pleasant, that to injure a friend in love is unkind. Is it unkind to lance an infection? Does a surgeon commit injustice when he cuts in order to bring healing? We act as if even our love must submit to politeness, as if there was nothing more important than preserving social niceties. Even—or especially? —among those closest to us, those we consider worthy of more than ordinary, daily courtesies.

 I wonder, do we refrain more from fear of wounding a friend, or from selfish fear that they will not hear the tones of love and refuse to let us be close any longer? Love hurts when its object is denied, and although the love we bear for a friend may be willing to hurt in order to bring healing, we hesitate to risk rejection. But it seems that the love which motivates us to want to say a hard thing is a relative of Truth, and Truth would not shy away from a hard thing, would it? It occurs to me only now that there are two verses in the Bible that speak to this kind of situation, and they go hand-in-hand for a reason: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Prov 27:17 “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him.” Eph 4:15. If we want Truth in our lives, it will eventually insist we say hard things. Love will insist upon how we say it, and will not grow bitter, even if Truth causes rejection.

Of course I risk the assumption that any situation like this requires beforehand the most honest humility possible. None of us will hear the tones of Love which soften a harsh blow if the tones of voice are dogmatic or scolding. I have found brokenness, in fact, to be the safest tone of voice in which to say the hardest things. And is there not some brokenness, some wounding in the kind of Love that hurts enough for a friend to risk hurting that friend? I think there is. If I did not hurt for you, how much would I really love you?

 Finally, I do not mean we speak potentially painful words to one another over trivial—or even irritating—differences of opinion or doctrine or preference. We do not hurt one another without carefully considering I Cor. 10:12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” The depth I am talking about is when things are deep, and critical or potentially pivotal in a loved one’s life. The kind of thing that may determine the future direction of either health or sickness, hope or despair, faith or bitterness. The kind of thing that makes you yank a child back from the road just before she is struck by a car, the kind of thing that makes you slap a baby’s hand just before he touches a stove—they may cry and become angry, but you have saved them from something worse than the pain or fright you caused them.

 We don’t do this lightly. May we hear one another when the time comes that we must. 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

She was aware of the movie

She walked home slowly, alone. She was aware that, if her life was a movie, there would be sad music playing, that the camera shots would emphasize that she was the only one on the sidewalks, that she would look very small and forlorn in comparison to the size of even her  small city. Her footsteps echoed in the quiet darkness. She was aware that in the story that would have been a movie, everyone would feel very sorry for her, and that she deserved their pity.

 When the one person you really wanted pity from doesn’t even see you, you deserve others’ pity. When you walk home slowly, alone, and no one really even knows you left, it’s understandable that compassion should be there. When your smallness and loneliness in comparison to the love that should be is so stark…wouldn’t you want someone’s pity?

 The funny thing is that as she walked home she was aware of how it would be in a movie. And she was sad that no one noticed, that she was going home to an empty house, that even her hopes of closure for the evening had been quietly crushed. She was aware of the incomprehensible irony that on an evening in which she had planned to lay to rest a cherished dream of supportive love, there had been public talk about how people really need supportive love. She was aware of how ridiculous it was that on the same evening she had planned to let go of the dream because the love she longed for was missing, that she had been filled with an inexplicable compassion for the one who didn’t see her. When anger had been her only ally, to steel her heart against further pain, it had deserted her; and in its place was only forgiving, patient love, an unexpected calm willingness to continue loving and hurting rather than disobey her God and give in to the bitterness and despair to which she was entitled.

 She was aware that she should be as sad inside as the movie would look. She was very sad, but it was so quiet that it didn’t hurt like some other kinds of sadness. It was patient. She wondered if it was the kind of patience that the Bible talks about where it says “…we also exalt in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) She wondered if that was what it was. Hope sounded good, although there was not much to be seen of it on this night of the lonely movie—just the promise of it in that patient acceptance in her heart.

 Well, if there was hope, then there was the possibility of almost anything, wasn’t there? She was aware that the movie played on, its sound track a haunting melody, but not the kind that makes you shiver in the dark. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I wish I didn't...or you did

You keep telling me I have to let God heal me: that you can’t fix me, can’t make it all better, can’t take away my pain. I hear you.


But here’s the thing: Do you hear me? When did I ask you to fix me? I don’t remember saying I thought that was your job. I never thought you could fix me.


Only—I remember when I was littler, and someone saw me hurting, and they came after me to comfort me, to let me know I wasn’t alone. To let me know that while I was waiting for the One who could heal me, that I needn’t lose hope in the midst of loneliness. And you know what? It helped. Of course it didn’t fix me—clearly I’m still broken. But at least I did feel I wasn’t alone. At least someone who had sat in the same Waiting Seat put an arm around my shoulders and a hand on my head and told me the Waiting wouldn’t be forever and that even thought I was broken they still loved me. It helped. It comforted.


So I guess the question is—why don’t you want to help me? Even though you can’t make my wound go away, why does its existence not move you? Why does my pain not touch your heart, and why don’t you love me?


Am I not pretty enough, not good enough, not pathetic enough? How much blood do I have to bleed for it to occur to you that I need help?


Sometimes your words are love, but you don’t look for me, come after me. If my face was as damaged and tragic as my heart, would you finally see and understand? Or would the mess only push you further from me, scare you away? I am so tired of the mask that makes my face prettier than my heart—it is such a heavy mask. I only stumble along under its burden because I fear this very thing—that to drop it would only seal my rejection and isolation.


I suppose the really foolish thing is that I care. If you loved me I would know it, I wouldn’t have to wonder and ask and beg. Love just is, right? You can’t make it happen if it’s not already there… right?


I wish I didn’t care.


Or that you did. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Pile of Glistening Ants



My friend Faith and I went out for a walk last week. I have been going regularly to Faith’s house for tea for a little over three years—from shortly before she became pregnant with her first child, Rowan. That was when she and her husband still lived in the little apartment two minutes away. With the arrival of child number two (who is also daughter number one), Paili, they had to move further away to get a house where they could fit all the accoutrements of the two children (and the children themselves.) And the two cats. This house is next to a very lovely old cemetery, the kind they use in movies. Well, due to the nature of the young children, Faith and I haven’t gone out to do anything but tea since…well, I really don’t remember when we did much besides our teas and wifely discussions. But on this day, the father of the two children returned home at an hour when there was still golden-dusky sunlight out in the world, and Faith and I went to walk in the dappled gloom of the graveyard.


We continued our wifely discussions as we did the rotation of the cemetery, including our literary aspirations, the shocking price of home improvement projects, the danger of sending husbands to the grocery store without explicit and detailed lists, and the continuing wonder that is our husbands—they do not cease to amaze us with their unwavering un-womanliness, despite the fact that neither of us are newlyweds anymore. However, there is no doubt that our talks regarding husbands would be of a much more serious nature were either of our husbands in any way actually womanly. We must always count our blessings.


Two funny things happened on our walk: one is that we encountered a flock of deer. (Yes, we know it is a herd of deer, but doesn’t flock of deer sound funnier?) I believe we also referred to them as a swarm and some other outrageously incorrect animal-group name. On round three of the graveyard, we strolled past another contingent of the morbidity-loving white-tails, who regarded us with surprising calm, as though young wives energetically thrashing out the mysteries of life while exercising were an everyday occurrence in what they clearly considered their territory. Some of these fleet animals were tranquilly eating the hedges surrounding a particularly picturesque spot in the cemetery. Faith paused. She is a mother, and she couldn’t just let this pass. She addressed the deer in mild but scolding tones: “Stop eating the hedges!” A large buck with an admirable rack regarded her with stoic rebellion. “Yes, you,” she replied, “Do you think you can just do anything you want?” (This reminded me of the time during one of our indoor teas when Faith turned from our conversation and sternly rebuked the cat, who was clawing at the window screen, “Seamus, stop it!” Then she turned to me and said wearily, “I’m always yelling at someone.”)


I burst out laughing. “You’re yelling at the deer?” “Well, they can’t eat everything!” she replied. “I’m afraid they’re going to come down and eat my shrubs—I saw one standing on the corner there!”


On the way back to the house, funny thing number two: I paused as small object on the sidewalk caught my eye. “Is that a pile of glistening ants?” I inquired incredulously. Before she had time to respond, I realized what it was. “Oh, it’s just a shiny kid’s scrunchie.” Faith doubled over with laughter and began to stagger about on the sidewalk. “What?” I said, laughing too. “‘A pile of glistening ants’” she gasped? “What kind of thing to say is that?” “I don’t know, why are you laughing so hard?” I said, laughing at the absurdity myself. “Yes, but who says that?!” she wanted to know. “Who thinks that?” “Well, that’s what it looked like for a second.” After she recovered her powers of locomotion, we walked down the block to her yard.


After watering the pepper plant and inspecting the arbor vitae, which showed suspicious brown spots, we regarded the rest of the shrubbery. “See,” Faith pointed out the nearby corner, “That’s where that deer was standing.” 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

It's Amazing What a Little Love Can Do

“Suddenly it’s like the weight is lifted, when you hear the words that you are loved.”

Natalie Grant


A little bit of love. Do you know what it can do for your life? For your heart? It’s amazing.


Have you ever been in love? Remember the feeling like it’s really hard to stay on the ground? Like your heart is so full that it seems you just have to fly? Like you could do anything you tried, like you could handle any problem as if it was no problem at all? Because someone loves you, thinks you’re beautiful, thinks you’re special and deserve to know it?


Never mind if you’ve never been in love. Remember when that person you really wanted to know reached out to you on their own? Remember when someone you liked first told you they really liked you too? Remember when someone went out of their way just to let you know they thought you were really special?


Remember when you were walking through such a dark time in your life that even when you smiled it didn’t go to your eyes, and most times you just couldn’t smile at all? Remember when you were so hurting that no one seemed to see you at all, and you were lonelier than ever because you were afraid to reach out in case it would just mean more rejection? Remember when it seemed that there would not be any more joy, because the pain just wouldn’t go away and  you knew it would be your constant companion, giving joy of the future no chance to reach your heart?


Remember when someone did see? Remember when someone said they understood and you suddenly realized—they really did? Remember when you realized the look in their eyes meant they were feeling your pain because they understood, they cared about you, they hurt for you because you were worth it? Remember when it suddenly, it was as if the pain you couldn’t shake seemed like maybe it was yesterday? That the hopelessness of a moment ago was drifting away like clouds before a steady wind? That there was joy in the future, and it just might be for you?  Remember when suddenly, it was no longer foolish to dream, and you wanted to share the freshness that suddenly, inexplicable, brilliantly stole into your soul?



A little bit of love is all it takes.



Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In My Mind's Eye

In my mind’s eye, I see a young woman, dark-haired, kneeling on the floor of a church.

It is not a figure kneeling beneath the towering, elegant arches of a cathedral, however: not a picturesque scene in artistic light and shadow depicting a moment of yearning in a movie. This church is a plain building, large but spare, nondescript brick on a nondescript street. The look is more that of a plain, modern conference room than a cozy chapel of time-honored memory. There are rows of chairs, half-emptied of their rows of people of every age—the people stand, crowd toward the front, fill the isles. In the front of the building, on a stage where musicians sing softly, another young, dark-haired woman with a glowing, warming smile, cries to the people in a ringing voice, her eyes alight. She has come to remind them their God is much bigger, much closer, much fuller of grace, than they remembered.

The peoples’ hearts throng to her message. They are weary of the cares of law, worn from the struggle to reconcile the grandness of the God in their Holy Book to the often-meager survival of their daily lives. Their faith is renewed; it wells in new joy even as many of them join the young woman on their knees on the floor. Freedom from broken hearts, broken dreams, hidden sorrows, flow as the tears flow—in release, in promises restored, in healing.

The young woman’s heart throngs as the hearts around her. She seeks freedom the pain she has carried so long—so long that it seems it has always been with her. It is not a pain of deep and hidden sin, not even the pain of great wounding at the hands of others, though that is perhaps how it began. It is only the pain of a broken heart, of shame at the depth of her wound that others do not see, and her fear that if they did its foolishness would elicit disgust or condemnation. It is the pain born of holding that same judgment against herself.

Some of those around her do not notice the anguish on the young woman’s face as she kneels, her posture the embodiment of desolation and misery. They are blinded by their own pains. Those who see things, though, are startled to compassion by the fleeting moment when she lifts her face, glistening with tears, to the ceiling and then, overcome by the weight of her burden, huddles again quickly and forcefully to the ground. Those who see this would, perhaps, have understood and loved had the young woman risked her heart to them. Three of them crowd around, reach out loving hands and begin to pray. One of them drops to her knees and puts her arms around the weeping girl.

In your mind’s eye, do you see this picture? Do you perhaps see in this scene…yourself? What does it say to you of your own tears, your own hopes, your own vision of those around you? Do you kneel?

Do you sing?

Do you pray?

Do you comfort?

In my mind’s eye, what startled me was that when the girl lifted her face to sky, it was my own.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Basil Has Blight


I’m having a hard time growing things. Last summer I got enthusiastic and very domestic, even for me, and decided to grow some basil. I love it, my husband loves it, and like my friend Faith, I put it in almost everything I cook. Lemonade with Basil Syrup? Astonishingly delicious. I was tired of paying $3 for a clump of basil at the grocery store, only to have half of it rot and be thrown out when I didn’t use a whole basil bush in one week; after all, there are limits. Basil Oatmeal? Not so much.


I picked out some inspiringly colored pots (in the color that I wanted to decorate the house in, but that they only started making available after our wedding, when all the gifts were in use and we no longer had any decorating money) and got a bag of potting soil. I went home and planted, ready to save money and contribute to an atmosphere of superior breathability. So, I sprouted the little seeds, they grew like weeds, and then, just when they started to look really promising…a suspicious-looking fuzz appeared on the soil. I was on the phone with my friend Amy.

“Amy—” I interrupted our conversation about the relative literary merits of Lewis and MacDonald “Amy, what is the matter with me? There’s moldy looking fuzz on my basil dirt! I think I really do have a black thumb!”

“It could be a blight,” she replied calmly.

“How would it get a blight? It’s brand new dirt!” I said.

“Where did you get the dirt?” she asked.


“There ya go. Your basil could have a blight.”

“Are you kidding me? My basil has blight? Stinking Walmart dirt.”

“You gotta watch that Walmart dirt,” she said solemnly.


So, I threw away my poor little choked basil sprouts, and hoped that the lavender plant I had going in my other brightly-lacquered pot would fare better. After all, it was a sturdy plant when I acquired it, and since the stuff is used, in the wild, to growing on barren moors akin to those in a Charlotte Bronte novel, I thought it had a good chance. My pleasant dining room, with dazzling sun in the mornings and a moderate, balmy clime all afternoon, would be an excellent place for a rugged, already-thriving woody bush.  Perhaps in some other home it would. The lavender waned, and waned. I trimmed, watered, coaxed, prayed, and re-read the planting instructions that accompanied the ill-fated shrub. It died a lingering death unbecoming to a plant of such benevolent reputation.


I gave up on plants for the year, but halfway through this summer, I was again seized with aversion to the flagrant waste involved in purchasing hydroponically-grown basil at Wegman’s. I bravely entered the savory foliage department of the local farmer’s market, and picked up a questionable-looking pot of yellowing basil. It looked like it had already spent a few weeks in my house, but it was only $.099, and I figured the odds were already against it and if it died quickly I wouldn’t have lost much. I took it home, watered it, and tried it in the kitchen this time, where there is a brief but brilliant time of sun in the morning, followed by a dining room-like atmosphere of cheery light throughout the remainder of daylight hours. In a day or two I was delighted to see the yellow leaves turn to their wonted glowing green, and the little plants seemed to grow and thrive in their miniature starter pots. I watered them well and gave them the best spot in my tiny kitchen, and it seemed my basil plight had rounded a fortuitous corner.


Until one day when the whole plant appeared wilted and yellowish, despite a thorough watering and flourishing appearance just two days before. I decided that perhaps in their accelerated proliferation they had outgrown the plastic starter pot they’d come in, and so I once again got out my pretty planters and the dubious Walmart dirt. (It was just sitting there being dirt, and we were broker than the previous year. It can’t really have been the dirt, I thought to myself.) I transplanted. Then I gave them extra extra water, put some more water in the planter dish underneath them, and went on vacation for 10 days.


When I returned they were still alive. But not thriving. I examined the dirt with deep suspicion, but no fuzz appeared. As of today the basil remains living, but it lives with a tenuous and questionable sort of existence, not the kind you would expect from a plant that makes summer salads worth boiling pasta for on a 98-degree day in a second-floor apartment with no air conditioning. Not that kind of life from a zesty, saucy herb. I expect it every moment to clutch its throat in a dramatic, last, gasping frenzy, and fall with desperate finality to the fuzzy carpet below, on the blighted Walmart dirt.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pop Isn't Always Bad



Basically, it’s like this: if you have any kind of taste or discrimination at all, you are not supposed to like pop music. Pop is generic, rote, and plebian. Intelligent or cool people do not like pop; they like jazz or fusion or indie. Now, if it’s called “rock” that’s a little better. (As far as I’m concerned, Kelly Clarkson is just as much pop as she is rock, but it sounds so much better to call it rock.) I have always enjoyed pop music, although I do consider myself an intelligent person and I do have a college degree. After several years of being with my husband, who is a classically trained theory-perfect musical critic, I figured out that it’s just that I like melodies. Pop produces melodies. There it is.


However, I spent some time learning about the music industry, and I was taught to be (at least somewhat) discriminating. I do not love all pop music, and especially with R&B, I hate when it all sounds the same and I sometimes make sweepingly critical statements about the state of creativity across the musical board. I have made my share of derisive comments about the Xerox-bubble-gum Christina Aguilera-Britney Spears-Avril Lavigne-Lindsay Lohan situation that raged in the first part of the decade. Not that I thought it was all talentless trash, but that whole scene isn’t something you put up as a monument to musical or social brilliance.


Be that as it may, a couple weeks ago I felt a strong need to find angry, expressive girl songs, and stumbled upon Avril Lavigne’s music, which I haven’t really listened to in years. It hit the spot. It wasn’t a good spot, but the thing that was great was that it hit the spot. Country music will often do this, however much people don’t want to admit it, but there are times the twang will not sufficiently address the depth of feeling that pop will.


I’ve often wondered what it is about the honesty of human emotions that is acceptable to us in the lyrics of a song, but is just too raw if they’re only words. The vulnerability, the kind of emotional desperation that we too-often despise in others and almost always in ourselves suddenly seems alright in the words of the Angry Pop Princess.


…I tried to belong

It didn't seem wrong

My head aches

It’s been so long

I'll write this song

If that's what it takes…

(Avril Lavigne, Unwanted)


…When you walk away I count the steps that you take,

do you see how much I need you right now…

(Avril Lavigne, When You’re Gone)


Or, when the person whose steps were counted did not respond—the song is called Unwanted:

You don't know me, don't ignore me

You don't want me there, you just shut me out

You don't know me, don't ignore me

If you had your way, you'd just shut me up

Make me go away


(so unwanted)

No, I just don't understand why

You won't talk to me

It hurts; I'm so unwanted for nothing

Don't talk words against me

I wanted to know you

I wanted to show you

(Avril Lavigne, Unwanted)


There are few things that hurt worse than reaching out for help and either being rejected or feeling rejected. And when you are hurting that badly, it hardly matters whether the rejection is real or perceived. It doesn’t matter whether it is a lover or a friend—it’s just the fact that the tenderness of your heart was damaged. Something that is precious when it is accepted and celebrated is doubly piercing and shameful when it is pushed aside as if it doesn’t matter, as if perhaps, it wasn’t even seen.


Are you aware of what you make me feel, baby?

Right now I feel invisible to you, like I'm not real

Didn't you feel me lock my arms around you?

Why'd you turn away?


I was left to cry there, waiting outside there

Why should I care?

'Cause you weren't there when I was scared

I was so alone...

You, you need to listen!

I'm startin' to trip,

I'm losin' my grip

And I'm in this thing alone...


Cryin' out loud

I'm cryin' out loud

(Avril Lavigne, Losing Grip)


Some of the pop princesses aren’t terribly angry. I randomly came across a song relatively new to the charts, and whether or not the song is about good or bad blood flow, the chorus struck me:

I keep bleeding keep keep bleeding love

I keep bleeding I keep keep bleeding love

Keep bleeding keep keep bleedin love

You cut me open

(Leona Lewis, Bleeding Love)

The seemingly trite repetition of the words is nevertheless how you feel when you’re bleeding emotionally.


And that’s the point. When your heart, for whatever reason, is just so battered that all you are aware of, moment by moment throughout the day, is the constant, aching, bloody gush of pain, you feel. That is what pop talks about—our feelings. In stronger moments we may dismiss our feelings in lieu of “reality,” in better moments we balance our feelings with right actions. But there are times in all of our lives when all we can do is feel; there are days when getting from morning til night is a monumental task of posing, and when no one understands or seems to care, the only reality that counts is in those moments when you are finally alone and are fully embraced in the crush of your own agony.


I have always been thankful that God put the Psalms in the Bible. Not just the ones that remind us of His sovereignty, or that we must remind our souls to praise Him despite the sorrow of life, but the ones that match the days we sometimes have. Not the bad days, the really bad days, or even the terrible days. The days—mercifully rare—when you just cannot seem to rise above your pain. The days you look for songs filled with anguish and frustration that do not have answers, because your day does not have answers. The days you go home alone and get on the floor because that is how low you really are, and you ball your fists and sob and ask God “WHY!?” if He loves you can He let you hurt so badly. For days like that, I am thankful that He gave us Psalm 38. It is one of the few Psalms that does not end with praise or a remembrance of good. It merely says “Do not forsake me, O LORD;
O my God, do not be far from me! Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!” On our worst days we still acknowledge God as our Savior, but a broken and desperate plea for help is all we can manage.


And the wish for someone to see, to understand, to offer just a little comfort, a little validation of the feelings that hurt so deeply and carry shame for their very depth—I think this is what somehow makes a song acceptable when to actually voice a cry for help would be unthinkably risky.


I'm looking for a place

I'm searching for a face

Is anybody here I know


Cause nothing's going right

And everything’s a mess

And no one likes to be alone


Isn't anyone trying to find me?

Won't somebody come take me home?

(Avril Lavigne, I’m With You)


What’s hardest on the hurting heart is the very reaction that’s actually pretty normal to someone who isn’t hurting or doesn’t remember their own times of emotional suffering: a song like Nobody’s Home, when you’re not hurting, seems so superlative that it’s easy to dismiss, because this kind of emotion seems melodramatic unless you’re living it.  


And maybe it is melodramatic. Thank God that most of us don’t live in this kind of pain all the time, or even most of the time. I don’t think we could handle it if we did.  But whether or not the pain seems trumped up or circumstantially disproportionate to someone else, there are days and seasons that we all experience the pain, the loneliness, the searing solitude of our own darkness. And we know how real, how desperately wrenching it is. 


On days like that I don’t care if the song is cool or intelligent, or that the fact I like it makes me lame. I’m already lame, I’m hurting, and the only comfort I may have that day is that somebody out there knows how it feels to be me.



"Nobody's Home"


I couldn't tell you why she felt that way,

She felt it everyday.

And I couldn't help her,

I just watched her make the same mistakes again.


What's wrong, what's wrong now?

Too many, too many problems.

Don't know where she belongs, where she belongs.

She wants to go home, but nobody's home.

It's where she lies, broken inside.

With no place to go, no place to go to dry her eyes.

Broken inside.


Open your eyes and look outside, find the reasons why.

You've been rejected, and now you can't find what you left behind.

Be strong, be strong now.

Too many, too many problems.

Don't know where she belongs, where she belongs.

She wants to go home, but nobody's home.

It's where she lies, broken inside.

With no place to go, no place to go to dry her eyes.

Broken inside.


Her feelings she hides.

Her dreams she can't find.

She's losing her mind.

She's fallen behind.

She can't find her place.

She's losing her faith.

She's fallen from grace.

She's all over the place.

Yeah, oh


She wants to go home, but nobody's home.

It's where she lies, broken inside.

With no place to go, no place to go to dry her eyes.

Broken inside.


She's lost inside, lost inside...oh oh yeah

She's lost inside, lost inside...oh oh yeah

(Avril Lavigne, Nobody’s Home)


Friday, August 22, 2008

I Walk Long for a Short Person

A few weeks ago one of my friends made a comment about how I was walking ahead of and out of sync with everyone else, including my husband Bob, who is very tall. I am not tall. I told her I used to get in trouble when I was a kid because my mom said it was rude for me to walk ahead of everyone else, and it’s funny because Bob’s legs are so much longer than mine. “I walk long for a short person!” I said.

Then I added, “That would make a good title for my autobiography.” I’m always more or less planning this autobiography, as if I were a famous person preparing ahead of time to document their own life, out of consideration for other biographers. “Wouldn’t it be great if people in the old days had written with us in mind?” I asked one of my old journals. Long have I labored under delusions of future grandeur.

But the phrase has stuck with me for some reason, and I have been pondering how that simple phrase, uttered in a moment of playfulness, may say more about a lot of us than we realize. To Walk Long for a Short Person—it implies an aberration, a variation from an expected deduction from a theme, but in an unexpectedly positive way. A short person should walk short—their stride limited by the length of their legs. I, however, walk surprisingly long—my stride covers more ground faster than one would expect from a person with far-from-super-model legs. My aberration is good.

What I want to say is that our God is good and has built unexpected strengths into those of His children who would otherwise be sadly inadequate, who would be otherwise pitifully unable to cope with the tiring onslaught of life in this broken world. Earlier this year my pastor’s wife, Tricia, gave me an unusual prophetic word, essentially “God thinks you’re Amy Winehouse.” Amy Winehouse, of course, was the year’s Grammy Award It Girl, a talented but troubled singer who had to get leave from a rehab center to perform her award-winning Song of the Year “Rehab” at the Grammys via satellite link (chorus: “They wanna make me go to rehab, but I said no, no, no.”) Amy’s unstable life, talent, and surprising award were a big joke around the church office where I work. I knew God had a sense of humor, too, though, because what Tricia meant toward me was, there’s this poor girl, jacked up on drugs and hardly able to stand at her own moment of glory, yet she still gave a solid performance and won one of most prestigious awards in the world. She walked long for a short person that spring. What Tricia was saying to me was, that despite all the difficulties in my life, all the struggles and disappointments, I was still there. I hadn’t crashed and burned into oblivion.

In the months since then, I have seen how I am not alone in my struggles. People all around me are struggling hard, not just with small inconveniences in life, but with the big ones: chronic debilitating disease, decimating divorces, shattered families, the devastation of their hopes and dreams. Yet these people go on—not only living, surviving, but hoping, praying, worshipping, and giving to others in such a way that most of the people they give to are not even aware that the cost of the gifts are secret tears and pain carried in loneliness.

That there are so many of us carrying the pain alone and shedding tears in secret is topic enough for its own consideration. But the fact that these people have not given up, cursed God, or turned their backs on the church—the fact that they press on, in all their small humanity, and retain hope and love….

That is an abnormality from an expected outcome—a result inconsistent with the apparent resources—that is far superior to what one would naturally expect. Deviations in nature usually result in birth defects or a broken version of the ideal image, not improvements. I don’t think it requires a great deal of theology to explain why a short-limbed girl should outstride a tall man; I am content to call it a gracious and pleasant mystery. That is also what I call the reason some people shine when they should shatter.

I call it the gift of a good Father. It is a stride you wouldn’t expect from short legs.