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.