Stammering

I read it in your word, learn it from the story

of those gestures with which your hands

cupped themselves around each fledgling thing —

warm, encompassing, wise.

You pronounced live strongly and die softly

and ceaselessly repeated: Be.

But before the first death murder came.

With a rent tore through your perfect circles

and a scream broke in

and scattered all those voices

that had just come together

to sing to you,

to carry you about,

their bridge over all abysses —

  .

And what they have been stammering since

are fragments

of your ancient name.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours translated by Edward Snow


There was an earthquake in Nepal today. Last week, it was a volcano in Chile. And hundreds of refugees drowned in the Mediterranean after an overcrowded boat capsized. All the while, tent cities burst their borders, wars incapacitate another generation and in our own cities, we clamor for explanations of injustice.

A scream broke in.

Voices scattered.

All we have are fragments.

The broken world bears witness to this story. But the Word that spoke creation speaks yet a better word:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4

The voices will again come together; the fragments will be rejoined and all will be made new. But until then, we listen for your ancient name. We wait and we hope and we stammer:

Come, Lord Jesus.

Year in Review

It has been a long year. Looking back over my calendar, it’s almost surprising to find that the year had the same amount of Mondays as usual and that there wasn’t a hidden month in there somewhere. More so than any year in recent memory, this year has felt so disjointed that the only reasonable conclusion is that it contained multiple years in one, bound together by some mysterious gap in the space/time continuum (I’ve been watching a lot of Dr. Who this year). I’ve given each era a title, to worthily distinguish it from the others:

  • The End (Jan ’14 – Sept ’14)
  • No Man’s Land (July ’14 – Nov ’14)
  • A Beginning? (Dec ’14)

The End was marvelous. Normal and full of life and celebrations and hard, messiness lived out in genuine community. Sometimes normal is hard to write about, so I’ll skip to the less-than-normal bits. The year began with The End in mind, although with just one end truly anticipated, the Good Lord thought He’d add some more, just to make the season true to its name. The first half of the year was filled with high school students – a full sprint to soak up all of their remaining time at home. Two retreats (one in the midst of having mono), d-group breakfasts at 5 Doors Down, coffee dates, last: track meet, concert, recital, performance, etc. Constant questioning about what other wisdom I had to impact during the days that were left. Senior night. And then suddenly, silence. They were gone. Graduation came and they left for camp, family vacation, immersion programs. And then they really left. For Alabama, Pennsylvania, Boston, Chicago, California. There were no more hands to hold in pews on Sunday mornings. No more lessons to plan or 12 hour days at church. Just silence. In fairness, this was always going to be hard. I have not known adult life without these girls. They’ve always been there to welcome me to church, to fill my free time, to occupy my prayers. I don’t know how to do life without them. In truth, I’m still trying to figure it out. Even when you know The End is coming, it still finds you unprepared.

But when you don’t know it’s coming, it can knock your feet out from under you and leave you dizzily trying to refocus a life that you thought you knew. In early spring, we decided to leave 5 Doors. It made sense – we were logical more than sentimental. Our lives were going different directions and it was the next clear step. So we tried to redistribute our kitchen and parse out the trinket shelves. But even when I was able to stretch my mind back and remember who the original owner of the Pride and Prejudice DVD was, I found it impossible to remember who I was apart from these women. How did I process life away from the black, candle-lit table? What did hospitality look like without a dining room table that could fit twelve? How could I sustain my spirit when entering a house to the hum of the refrigerator instead of laughter? I don’t have the answers, other than to say, I still don’t know. What I do know is that I thought moving would clearly be The End. That a new beginning was sure to follow. But the Lord had another end in mind first.

After Labor Day, my church added a third service on Sunday mornings. It is definitely safe to say that this should not have upended my life the way that it did. But upend it did. I finally lost my moorings. The one constant across my eight years of transient DC existence (and a rather changing constant at that) has been this church. When I tried to get rid of it, the Lord clearly had other plans. Yet when I longed for it to stay, and stay the same, the Lord’s plans again prevailed. I no longer saw the familiar faces I had grown accustomed to. I didn’t know where to sit or who to sit with or what my part was in the body. Added to the rest of The End, I cracked.

I fell into No Man’s Land.

I can’t recommend that you visit. It’s a dark place with more tears than sunshine. The exit signs are dim and flickering and the darkness leads you to believe you are all alone. My No Man’s Land was a vacuum, formed out of the backdrops of what was left after The End – lots of relationships, but none that I came home to. There were shadows of familiarity, until I actually focused my gaze and realized nothing was as it seemed. When I was home, I ate dinner alone. Laughter was replaced by the drone of the TV, until I started avoiding home altogether. I flitted around, visiting with friends, but perpetually feeling like I was catching up with them rather than growing our relationships. There were good things in this season, too – I began volunteering with Story Warren, Dan continued to be a source of consistency and support, I joined the admissions committee of the Fellows Program, and was able to travel more freely to Cleveland, Maine, New York City, Clemson and Nashville. But relationally, I was exhausted. Not from an abundance – as I’m more familiar with – but from a lack. Without roommates to process life with, or high schoolers to pour life into, my mind swirled around, constantly moving, but never getting anywhere. It felt like a wilderness with nothing but untended ground for company.

I think it was Christmas that saved me. Or, more specifically, it was Advent that shined a light in the darkness and let me see more clearly. Yes, my world is different now. Darker. But there are lessons to be learned in the darkness. One of them may just be learning how turn on the lights. In my No Man’s Land, the lights are called People and the first switch is called Hospitality. The first kind was a hospitality of life – to invite others (particularly my silent and isolationist roommates) into my world. In Advent, that meant invitations to decorate the house, eat Swedish gingersnaps, pick out a tree, watch Christmas movies. Although I got a lot of no’s, a few yes’s were enough to leave the lights on. The second kind was a hospitality of home. This house has always felt borrowed – I sit at a borrowed table in someone else’s chairs – so I have felt reluctant to invite others in. But darkness, my darkness anyway, is countered by company. So I opened my doors. We gathered and ate soup and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Then, my d-group girls were home from college so we once again met for brunch. The house feels a bit more like home now. Not perfect, but more solid than a mere echo.

Although this year has not followed the path I imagined, and I would have strongly preferred to stay out of the wilderness, there is something profoundly beautiful about being pulled out of darkness during Advent:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2

I am not alone. Emmanuel came down, not to immediately take away my waiting and my wilderness, but to wait with me as He makes all things new. It’s not much yet, but it just might be A Beginning.

*click*

If I hadn’t already called dibs on teleportation, I would claim “photographic memory” as my superpower.

When I was a kid, I read the Cam Jansen books. The main character is a red-headed girl, so like Nancy Drew and Anne (of the green gables) you just knew she was going to be awesome. And sure enough, she was. Cam (real name: Jennifer) is a super detective, who uses her photographic memory to solve mysteries. Best as I can remember, she blinks her eyes and says *click* and can remember anything.

Sign me up.

I spent last week with high schoolers. First, teenage-sitting for two of my favorite people, then, on a retreat with 50 high school students, including twelve of my own. (I’ve known them for seven years and so feel like the possessive pronoun is appropriate.) And I so desperately want to remember each and every moment.

Musty copies of Emerson and Thoreau delicately leafed through to find the perfect poetry recitation on Valentine’s Day while I make two teenage boys omelets for breakfast.                *click*

Six girls sitting on basement barstools, with their backs to me, reaching over each other for bags of chocolate, half-eaten chips and one lone bag of carrots as their laughter melds together.                *click*

The face of the confident senior as he shouts out song lyrics in the middle of a crowded dance floor, with no care for being on key.                *click*

Late night cuddle fests on top of four interlocking sleeping bags when conversations are no longer coherent and I can no longer tell which limb belongs to which girl.                *click*

An iPod stuffed inside a cup for better amplification to accompany a Disney sing-along and dance party in between chopping vegetables in the kitchen.                *click*

Hands clasped in prayer as thanksgiving is offered up for honey nut cheerios in the same breath as God’s unfailing grace.                *click*

Seven years feels like a whole lifetime. How many snapshots of the Lord’s faithfulness have I already forgotten? What moments of joy lay dormant in my memory? Seven years ago, these faces were names on a page. Now, they are stories, tears, personalized laughter, brokenness and redemption, fears and hopes. Seven years is an eternity.

I am often asked why I spend so much of my free time with teenagers. Why I answer my phone when it rings at two in the morning. Why someone pushing 30 needs snapchat on her phone. Why I would drive an hour across town in rush hour traffic for a half hour conversation over coffee. For me, these snapshots are the reason. But perhaps for you, I need to go back a bit further.

I’m sitting in a semi-circle of girls, facing my choir teacher, listening to her tell a class full of public school show choir girls that irrespective of what we believed, she knew that the God of the universe had allowed her husband to spin circles on the snowy highway, hit the median and walk away without a scratch.                *click*

It is a warm night in Goshen, Virginia and I am sitting on the steps of a Rockbridge dorm, bombarding my Young Life leader with hard questions about heaven and hell, confident that even though the answers may allude her, she will be there to hear any of my hard questions.                *click*

A rambunctious group of junior high girls is piled into the second floor church bathroom – the one with the couches – ignoring our discussion questions and giggling about boys as our high school leaders smiled and followed along.                *click*

A table of eager fourth graders nervously eye each other’s frilly Bible covers and meticulously placed book tabs as we get ready to study Esther and Ruth with two women who have seemingly arbitrarily decided to invest in a small group of 10 year old girls.                *click*

I could start answering your questions by explaining that I was well-loved as a teenager. Older women opened their lives to me and let me ask hard questions and showed me that though life would be difficult, God had given us each other. I am simply following the model that was given me.

 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19, MSG

Isn’t it the model we have all been given? There are a million ways to love from love. But for as long as they will have me, I will choose this way. Seven years is just the beginning.

Sudden and Imperceptible

Change comes slow/And sometimes you don’t notice/The twilight into darkness/The sunrise into day – Jill Phillips

Charge will come as surely as the seasons and twice as quick.” – Little Women

Fall is coming. Its been on its way for awhile now. A wall of warmth no longer waits to greet me as I get the morning paper. The mosquitoes have faded and the flowers are in their final days. I haven’t seen any member of my household for more than three minutes during the last 72 hours. My girls went to their first day of senior year this week. Work is doubling down with the promise of still more to come, and Target had the audacity to set up their Halloween displays this week. And yet in spite of the early warning signs, I keep having to remind myself that summer if drawing to a close.

I’m not ready to give up daylight, wildflowers and pitchers of iced tea on the counter. Yet in spite of my protestations, I know that the rhythm of the seasons is good for my soul. Even when I fight against it, the four quarters of the year work their way under my skin and I can’t help but obey their cries to play, work, rest and create. The calendar grounds me and draws me out of myself, tying me to the rest of humanity who must also submit to her call. And once I yield, I remember that I love this turning sphere and the magic inherent in her that prompts leaves to change colors overnight, that whispers frost onto my windows and sings sprouts out of the ground. If I hadn’t seen it time and time again with my own eyes, I would call you a liar and cower as the world around me seemed to come undone. If I doubted the faithfulness of the One who speaks the seasons to change, I would worry of a world full of winter, but never Christmas. But I have seen, and I do believe.

But I am quick to forget. Change is coming for me in all directions. Many nights, it feels like he is prowling around, just waiting until I get comfortable before he will spring and attack, with changes at home, at work, at church, in relationships. Nothing feels out of his grasp. And I feel that the world around me may come undone.

I wonder if this is how my flowers feel. The nights are colder now, and the sun’s rays don’t have quite the impact they once did. Do they feel undone? I wonder, if I told them what was coming, about getting buried in the earth but growing up again as more than they were before, if they would believe me. Perhaps.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

Amen.

A Testing of Vows

More than four years ago, after a series of classes, discussions, debates, and prayer, I stood up, alongside brothers and sisters, and made five promises; or, better stated, took five vows. The first three are essentially vows of personal faith and piety. The fourth is about support and service. On the whole, these have been easy. But the fifth one; that fifth vow is hard. It pushes back and challenges me to a life that is more than the one I am seeking.

Do you submit yourself to the governance and discipline of the church and promise to study its purity and peace?

First of all, I do not “submit” very well. So right off the bat, this one is tough to swallow. Then, inherent in this vow is the promise (or at least looming prospect) of discipline:  unsurprisingly, not a favorite of mine. And we end with a study of purity and peace. The “study” part is fine, but I’m a firestorm. I doubt very much that anyone has ever described me as peaceful.

This is more than I want.

What I want is rebellion and to go my own way. I want to be the loudest and last voice yelling for my cause. I want to pick and choose and be the arbiter of whatever sort of ‘justice’ suits me today.

But settling for my desires betrays a lack of imagination.

I have been called to a life bigger than the one I know. And I have been called there alongside brothers and sisters who watched me promise to “study the church’s purity and peace.” And it is these men and women, these voices, who listen to my tyranny, then show me a better way. One that is more than I could ever dare to ask or imagine.

Loving kindness

John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

“God is the Word and created us to be people of His Word and people of words.” –Clay Clarkson

There has been a shortage of kind words in my world. Not a drought, just a shortage.  Sarcasm, hurt feelings, and a weariness of soul all too often push kindness down and replace it with sharp, biting retorts.

But scripture tells us to love kindness. It commands us, as God’s chosen ones, to put on kindness [Col 3:12]. It lists a growing spirit of kindness as one of the ways that we can identify the work of the Holy Spirit in us. And more than that, one of the words God uses to describe His own character – Hesed – is frequently translated “loving kindness.” Sally-Lloyd Jones translates this as “God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”

Most days, my words don’t seem to emulate a never giving up, always and forever love. Most days, they’re incredible self-seeking, manipulative and weighed down by whatever else is running through my mind that day.

Scripture talks about the need to bridle your tongue, and compares unrighteous speech to a spark that lights off a whole fire.

I’ve seen that in my own world. One careless word sets off a rage that was never meant to be unleashed.

In my own heart, I want to be an advocate for thoughtful, kind speech. For words that try to account for the perspective of those to whom I am speaking. For honesty for the sake of community rather than honesty for the sake of self.

This will almost necessarily involve a swallowing of pride. I will have to rehearse different conversations in my head that don’t end with the best zinger I could come up with. I will need to look for the best in people and actually treat others as I want to be treated.

If I am to be a people of the Word and of words, then I need to zealously guard that privilege. So I will seek to love kindness.

Creative Writing

My Lenten discipline was meant to be writing. To hear the scratch on the paper and to know that I was living into my identity as one who is made in the image of God.

In the beginning – the real beginning, the one that set time dancing and planets spinning – into that beginning, God created. What He created was grand and vast, intricate and wildly imaginative. But setting that aside, or perhaps lumping it together, here’s what remains: God created.

Then, out of all this creation, all the goodness of His perfect imagination, He created people. And He gave us the biggest blessing of them all – He made us to image Him.

And in that moment, in that blessing, He made me a creator. He gave me the gift of creating.

And so, this season of Lent, I set out to image God by creating. To put words on the page that built up into sentences and spoke of the goodness of the Lord. My hope was that the darkness of this world might be pushed back a little.

I’m not so vain as to believe that huge evils like war or human trafficking would be stalled by my discipline, but rather that writing might shine some light on my own darkness. That by writing, I could sort out my own sinful heart; strengthen my resolve in Christ; repent of jealous pride.

Yet rather than pushing back the darkness, I allowed myself to get buried in it. The first week of Lent featured an extraordinary busyness. I wish that I could have emulated Martin Luther who is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” But instead, I raced around frantically, feeling overly needed and highly indispensable, which only lead to deeper pride and more darkness.

Sigh.

Lent is a season for repentance. For being reminded that I am dust, and to dust I will return. But that God loves me anyway.

And so, I begin again.

Much of this process will stay buried in my notebooks, but I need some accountability, so bits and pieces will show up here. Thank you for joining me during this season as I shine some light on the dark places and seek to “…walk as children of light.”