"The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, 'Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words.' A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"

from Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis


Mediocrity (AKA the 200th Post)

"Birthdays? I love birthdays! Cake all around." {from a birthday card made by the beautiful Christina Reimer}



When did I turn, y'know, not 18 anymore?

I was just re-reading an old blog post from just under three years ago. I can hardly believe that much time has passed since I was at IMPACT. One seventh of my life separating me from such a pivotal point in my life. And oh, the passion. The expression. Other times, I can hardly believe that IMPACT ever happened. Too much has happened in the meantime. I caught real life, and the doctors say they can't do anything to help me recover.

Funny, how I have ceased to read Wolterstorff's book on suffering and have instead learned to live it.

How do we look at the world without losing heart? How do we love her fiercely in all her muck and long to transform her into something beautiful? Is it worth it?

I feel like the past year has been an experiment for me. Live with normal people leading normal lives and be fairly normal myself. When I visited campus over spring break this past March, I told Ed that I'm used to being different, the odd one out. Maybe I was lying to myself. After all, seeming is not the same as being.

How do we transcend the everyday?

Every attempt at an answer leading to another question.


Grief ii: Micah

Flattened, when the moment came.
You hurtled through the sky,
Like a fragile meteorite
Falling, falling, and landing:
Did you burn so brightly
Because you knew?
Because you felt the wind,
As it rushed against your face?
Or did you mean for it to last,
Better than memory,
Longer than eighteen years:
Boy to man to old age.
Our eyes see what they will,
Blurred though they are by tears,
And your answers do not satisfy:
Half-remembered lips that whisper,
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,"
Will never speak of love without suffering,
And we wonder, empty-handed, empty-hearted,



Fingertip to vein,
Tracing emptiness and drought,
I thought, eyes flared - momentary shock,
"Death feels familiar."
In the moment of widening,
She sees the world.
From fall to redemption
(And sometimes back again),
Love lost and grace gained
Tumble one atop the other
On the wheel of time.
But the gray mists conceal
-we know not what;
And so, waiting,
We turn our faces to search out the light:
And hope.


From This Valley

While I have not been very committed to it, at various points throughout the year, I have picked up Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest to read the daily selection. Today's was about what Chambers called the Valley of Humiliation. The text is from Matthew 17, when Jesus and the three ascend to the Mount of Transfiguration. Seeing Jesus transformed, Peter says, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

A friend of mine recently completed a YWAM dts. He had wrestled for a while with the decision to go, and one of the reasons that he gave me was that he did not want to have the "coming down the mountain" experience. Having gone through that multiple times, I was very sympathetic to his concerns. It is a sad but all-too-frequently true story that people go away to dts or a similar faith-oriented program and come back fired up, only to find that their passion fades quickly before all of the real life minutiae.

And yet, in spite of my sympathy, I would have to answer such concerns with two thoughts.

First, if you focus on what you might lose, you will never receive all that you could gain. Jesus brought three of his disciples with him to witness the transfiguration, and they were instructed not to speak of it until a later time. They had a personal revelation of God which the other nine disciples did not experience. Jesus had twelve disciples, and of those twelve, all had productive ministries (save Judas, of course), but those three emerged as leaders: Peter, James, and John. It is noteworthy that Paul had a direct revelation on the road to Damascus as well.

What is the purpose of the mountaintop experience? The glory is the taste before the test. Which brings me to my second thought.

Chambers says that we cannot live in the glory on the mountaintop; it is only when we descend the mountain and enter gritty reality that we can live out the glory. In other words, what happens at the place of transfiguration is meaningless without what comes after. Peter was ready to camp out and build tents. He lost his vision for anything except what was right there in front of him because it was so achingly good. But the time is not yet for him to abide in that place, as evidenced by the passage that follows: Jesus healing an epileptic and chastising the disciples for their unbelief. Somehow, what they learned had not hit home yet, and it wouldn't until they had lived it out amongst the multitude.

While I'm not necessarily advocating going to a YWAM dts this very second (or possibly ever, for some people), I would say that fear of loss or failure should never prevent us from "entering the glory." Though we will certainly encounter difficulties thereafter as we realize the responsibilities that accompany knowledge, we are also given the strength to carry through to the end - or to the next mountaintop.


The Music In My Head

Black and white. Fairy tales. Gravity. Laughing gas. Carousels. Measuring sticks. Pushkin. Complexity. Redemption.

Betrayed? Maturity. Isolation. Cynicism. Aggravation. Push. Pull. Prank. Have we met before?

"I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned."


Storms at Sea

I tried.
I thought - perhaps -
But being shy of the mark
Is easier than you might suppose.
Sky painted with stars
Paints thoughts new colors.
Does creativity arise out of struggle
Or mere contemplation?
So very tired of wrestling;
So very tired;
So very not ready to give up yet.


C'est La Vie

Every piece of art is inherently an argument.

I thought about that this evening as I came to the end of a whimsical independent film called Cairo Time. The story idyllically follows a UN diplomat's wife as she experiences Cairo for the first time, initially waiting for her husband to arrive from a Gaza refugee camp, then happily losing herself in the enjoyment of her tour guide's company. This "guide" is a former colleague of her husband's, now turned coffee house owner, who offers to show her around when her husband's absence continues. As the film progresses (like most romantic movies), you kind of want Tareq and Juliette to be together. After all, her husband, Mark, has left her to her own devices in a completely alien city, and he seems to be callously indifferent to her plight. Never mind that he does important work at a refugee camp in a war-torn area. Tareq is handsome, tragic enough to soften hearts, and chivalrous to boot.

Not much of an argument there, of course - it's not a statement about foreign policy or the preservation of antiquities. But it's still the use of persuasion to lead the individual to an empathetic support for what would ultimately be a betrayal of trust - an affair. And in a way, I feel betrayed as a viewer when I'm led to that point. Unless you have a very open relationship, I would think that very few people could question the destructiveness of cheating, whether you're dating, engaged, or married. And yet, here I am being called to support that?

Oh, maybe it's not an argument for adultery. Fair enough. It is also (and here I did appreciate the content) a beautifully artistic portrayal of human relationships and the battle between emotion and will. The film relies very little on dialogue, in part because the story follows Juliette through much solitude. Part of the artistry of the work is that even as it intrudes upon a couple in the tenderest of moments, the camera often steps back, as if giving them privacy in their moments of public intimacy.

For all that it may not be arguing explicitly for an affair, it seems to me that when we are presented with love stories, there is something in us that wants them to work. Not the ones that are horribly flawed, where there's abuse or unhealthy dependencies, but then, there's not much honest love in those stories. Inherently, I know when I settle in to watch a rom com or some equally mushy slush, I'm going to be rooting for someone to make it together through all the drama and the difficulty. Because the thing is, no matter how much we see going wrong in our own relationships or those around us, we still hope and pray for one thing - that love wins. And yet, Cairo Time doesn't end satisfyingly. Maybe that's because, for all our slow dance songs and our Valentine's bouquets, we have no idea what love is, and what we really want to last is a good feeling.


The Blob

It has taken me a long time to figure out why I don't like going to alumni reunion. For those who plan it and love going to it: good for you. Since three of this year's officers were from my class and I know them well, I'm sure it was superb. I didn't go, since there were these three weddings that I prioritized over reunion, but the fact is, the weddings were a welcome excuse to avoid a painful experience.

I've talked in the past about how much I hate good-byes. Usually at this point, I'm burrowed in Revelation 21-22, bawling my eyes out over the promise of all things being made new and wishing that could be now. Since my Bible is in my suitcase, that's not happening right now. Instead, I was thinking about why I wanted to run away as soon as the ceremony ended at Mary Michael's wedding.

Don't get me wrong - it was beautiful. Mary Michael has some of the most divinely inspired taste of anyone that I have ever met, so it was elegant in all the right ways (i.e. the bride herself and the setting) with all of those special touches that she uses to turn trash into gold. Really, who thinks to use old baking pans as a table decoration? And they looked great, too.

The thing is, I always end up driving away with a huge hollow space in my ribcage where thirty or so people fit perfectly. We lived together for eight months, and it was glorious. I love them so much that it hurts to feel it. But we lead completely disparate lives now. Even those who are fortunate enough to live within an hour or two of each other are unlikely to have much contact (I of course exclude here alumni roommates, although I'm told that those who go to the same college frequently move in different social circles from one another).

How do you learn to say hello and good-bye to people you've shared so much life with? A lesson that I don't wish to sit through.


The Art of Being Alone

Everyone has a theme. Listen to a pastor long enough, and you'll hear it a hundred times. Read every blog post I've ever written, and you'll start wondering (as I do sometimes) if I ever write anything that can be appropriately designated "new." Read all about what motivates Dickens's characters, and you will eventually discover the motivations of Dickens himself. Generally, the things that we cannot stop talking about are the things that we ourselves struggle with the most.

If you're not sure what your weaknesses are, here's an easy way to find out: turn off every piece of communications technology that you possess and find a completely isolated place to spend time in relative stillness with nothing more than a journal and maybe a Bible (or a particularly meaningful book - I might bring along Chesterton's Orthodoxy, for instance). Then stay there for, oh, five hours? Longer, if you can manage it. Usually, if you're not afraid of doing some honest self-inquiry, you'll begin to face all the things that you've been dodging because you haven't had time for them.

Right now, I'm on top of a mountain somewhere in the sticks of eastern Alabama. It's not that far from civilization, but far enough that I don't feel like driving to the nearest Starbucks (the shortest route is 21 miles) to pretend that I'm having human interaction while my host, Leah, is at work. In addition to being apart from people, I also feel out of step with time: Alabama is on Central time, but I'm barely a mile from the Georgia/Alabama line which also marks the time transition. Is it 7:51 right now or is it 6:51? It's like the rest of the world is moving past me in perfect synchronicity, but I am standing off to the side, as if I were a pedestrian walking (illegally) along an interstate. All the disjointedness makes me feel isolated. It's one of those exhilarating moments where I get to choose between going sane or going crazy, and it's kind of fun (no Wilson yet, but it's just a matter of time).

Anyway, one of the things that I have realized during the past few lazy days is that I am in a molasses swamp of purposelessness. This is not really a surprise - such discoveries rarely deserve to be called true epiphanies - because if you read any of what I have written over the past few months, (I think) it frequently deals with living in such a way as to accomplish something meaningful. It's not because I'm particularly successful at living that way, but rather that I need more help than most people and so I have to thought vomit a lot to figure out where I'm going right or where I'm going wrong.

One of my favorite high school teachers, Mrs. Myers, once said that some of the best teachers are the ones who have struggled to grasp the material because they know all of the places where a student could get tripped up. They have traveled the same road, seen the same sights, and gotten sidetracked at the same places. As such, they have authority to guide another through that stretch of learning. It doesn't make the struggle any less painful or difficult for the individual who had to undergo the process, but it does redeem the struggle because that person has won the ability to help others over the snags.

We don't always get things right. In fact, I would hazard a guess that 87% of the time, we're running around like chickens with our heads cut off. But the beauty that arises out of the pain is that our suffering can, with time, become our message. Maybe Douglas Adams was right when he commented on the singular stupidity of humans who can learn from others and choose not to, but there will always be a few people who are listening. And therein lies the redemption - therein lies the hope.


Shame and Water

Guilt makes a lousy companion, like a thunderstorm always waiting at the edge of your mind. Any moment of sunshine and delight can be all too quickly quenched by a sudden downpour.

We had this phrase that slipped in during the Father Heart of God week at dts: "From love, not for love." The idea is that when we know we're loved, when we fully comprehend that we have nothing to work for because all that we need is already ours from Him, we walk in unimaginable freedom. God's love is like the Drano that clears away a lifetime of pipe-clogging gunk. A child runs in from outside covered in dirt, and Mother doesn't withhold her love until his face is clean. She loves him because of who he is and what he is.

It's a beautiful thought, but it's one that I forget all too readily.

Once upon a time, David Blanchard told me that one of my greatest weaknesses is a tendency to hide myself behind my accomplishments (for the record, I did ask for his opinion). He's right, and it arises from what is perhaps an all-too-common tendency to live by the approval of others. Don't be controversial, don't stand out too much, do as the Romans do. Because the fact is, it's tiring to have to defend a non-traditional perspective. Fasting for "religious reasons," going to church on Sunday, not drinking as part of a vow, even listening to the ever-dreaded Christian music... But oh, that spiral of silence has a steep slope.

The problem with living for the approval of others is that you can't please everybody. Eventually, you get to a point where you've successfully placated a new crowd, but you're ashamed to face your old friends. Oh, maybe you don't do anything too terrible - maybe you call yourself the good kid of the group. But you still find it hard to look in the eyes of the people who believe in you, who have known you at your best, because what if the light of hope is dimmed by disappointment?

Sometimes, I don't want to go home, because it's too tiring to remember what I'm supposed to say and how I'm supposed to act. Sometimes, I resent the circles that I move in now because I don't want to be weird or stereotyped, but I don't hold the most vocalized popular opinion.

"Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness ... There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:17a&18a)

Usually I treat this blog as my own personal dump site, because I don't want to be too preachy. Well, if it's preachy, I'm not sorry this time. I hope you know that you're loved. You are loved fiercely and passionately and forever. So am I. Like anyone, I have faced doubt. But doubt doesn't get the final word. At the end of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that three things remain: faith, hope, and love. Of these three, faith and hope will one day become obsolete, as the object of our faith is before us, and we need hope no longer because all hopes are satisfied. All that remains is love. It was there at the beginning, and it will be there at the end. You cannot disappoint a God who knows you front to back, death to birth, and everything in between, because He already knows the story and He re-wrote a better ending. That's the kind of love that casts out fear. That's the kind of love that makes us daring and bold. That is the kind of love that gets the final word.


French Fries

Tasted ocean on your lips.
Thus far, ignorant of the flavor of memory, then
The transformation of a meant microsecond:
A battering ram on the door of my heart,
Making way for the flood.
Storm and cessation,
Peace and passion.
I have been held by fire
(But not burned),
Soothed to sleep by waves
(But not drowned).
Will I ever wake again?


C'est La Mort

Alone in a crowded room. A girl clears her throat, carries on her conversation, one word building atop the other, moment by moment: a life passing on the other side of table. Does she notice? Does she feel the breeze stirred by a world turning the hands around the clockface? Stephen Crane wrote of the indifferent furor of nature, his oilerman facedown in the surf while the boat full of weaklings survived. Is this all there is? Minutes ticking by and - nothing more.

And I have to shake my shoulders and laugh, perhaps a bit cynically. Of course there is more. The thought brought into daylight looks absurd. Oh, but do I live like life means anything? As if my own future were a rock that I must push forward, head bent down, back straining. Do I remember what the horizon looks like? Some days. Sometimes, when the sun sets, I look up and catch sight of glory and seeing, remember too other twilights that were beautiful like this one but in different shades and hues.

Am I really alone here? Do You sit with me? Do You breathe this air You've created, or do You experience its delight through my delight? The wealthy man's tongue is dulled to the flavor of rich foods, and he rediscovers their joy when he feeds the poor. I do not realize the mechanics of learning and of numbers and patterns until I see the light dawn on Nicole's face as she grasps a math lesson and surpasses it in the scope of her understanding, and suddenly I appreciate the process, the elegance of the numbers, and the human intellect with its imprint of the divine. You made a beautiful world and called it good, but its goodness circles back when we give You praise for all that You have created.

Taste and see. Eat the mystery, that your eyes may be opened - not to the knowledge of good and evil, which blinds us, but to the earthshaking revelation of awe.


My Body Rests in Hope

Hope is the soul's manna, the mystery sweeter than honey that sustains us through our day to day lives.

I love wandering around Ridley. It cleanses the muck from my lungs and from my neural pathways, or so it seems after a good hour of solitary rambling. On this side of a long walk, I enjoy the opportunity to nurse my blisters and enjoy the enervating sensation of well-earned exhaustion. Then too, there's the time to get lost in peaceful thoughts, unhurried by any cacophonous cares of the world that bother and distract.

I did a lot of daydreaming during my rambling. It's a lost art - daydreaming. We know how to fantasize for a few seconds of salivation over something that appeals to our senses, but it's much harder to get lost in a daydream. It takes more creativity, and oh, it's good for the heart.

We need something to get us through the grinding moments of every day. I think few people would not wish to live well, but it is so easy to lose sight of the tiny building blocks that fit together to form a life well-lived. If we do not have a firm grasp of what we hope for, we will not have the strength to hold fast in the muck and mire of life's grit. And if we hope for nothing... "The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, but a broken spirit who can bear?"


The Value of Vision

"To me, fractals are an interesting visual parallel of the nature of life – how firm boundaries and rules still give rise to variety and surprise. These are surprises that are self-similar and unending, even so, in fractals, they are endlessly unique. Life is similarly composed of many regulations. Admitting this, many people slip into grim fatalism, yet, in my view, regulation isn’t cause for resentment. Far from it! Rules are inherently creative, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, absolute freedom is chaotic and paralyzing. This, I believe, extends into matters of will. We are free to choose, but boundaries which are outside of our control often determine what category of opportunity within which we are free to exercise our will. Yet, limited will is, in my experience, a mercy – and a great one at that. Limits may be the greatest mercy of all and the true guardian of freedom."
{Linnea Gabriella Spransy, as quoted on World of Forms}

I was chatting with someone recently about where I want to be in five years, and I mentioned that I have a roughly charted plan to move to England, which I will happily follow if nothing should happen to keep me here. It's the standard Millenial perspective, the vague expectation that something better might come along. It takes a million forms, from my unwillingness to commit to a plan for radical geographic transplantation to people who prefer to get a divorce instead of fighting through a rough time because all they can see is the painful present and they have lost sight of what brought them together in the first place.

When you know what you're working towards and you are committed to it, it streamlines the process. Hearken back to trigonometry for a moment and recall a ray, which has a beginning point and extends indefinitely in a specific direction. When you have vision, your life is the space between two rays. Both inside and outside of that space, there is a vast field of possibilities and opportunities, some of them decked out in the neon glow of a "Once in a Lifetime Experience" sign. If you aren't committed to your direction, it can be so easy to get sidetracked into something that has no overarching value, something that lies outside of your boundaries. The result is like treading water: you ain't gettin' nowhere fast, son. If you are willing, however, to make the so-called sacrifice of sticking within that space, you will find that you actually move within reach of your goals.

Ironically timed aside: I occasionally become slave to my own extended metaphors, so what follows might be complete balderdash.

The interesting thing about a purpose-driven life (apologies to Rick Warren if that's a copyrighted phrase...) is that the end result turns a popular perspective on its head. I made a boring graphic, because it was better than explaining what's inside my head:

Consider someone like Steve Jobs. I don't know too much about his younger years, but it seems like he was pretty dedicated to his vision, and I think most people would agree that he accomplished a lot of it. The cool thing about his life though is that as he came nearer to reaching his goal, his life, opportunities, influence, all that stuff, it didn't become smaller as if he were honing in on a single point: it all got bigger. He set out to do one thing that he was really good at, and because he didn't get distracted from that goal, he did so much more than change the field of computer technology. His influence is felt in music, books, design, a hundred other areas, many of them fields that his talents were not individually suited to impact substantially if he had pursued them. The cool thing about vision is that by limiting us, it actually releases us to do more and do it better. 

One of the comments that Linnea Gabriella makes about her art is that she never really knows what the end result will look like. She starts out with a lot of lines, so intricately painted that it's almost like tracing a Mandelbrot set. But into that order, she dares to introduce chaos, simply by pouring a boatload of paint onto partially finished pieces and seeing what happens.

Life gets messy. Sometimes we make our plans to move to England, but there's a major setback. We think we'll be married with children by age thirty, but somebody wasn't in the right place at the right time, and it just doesn't work out that way. Sometimes the huge splatters of paint flow over our neatly, creatively organized lines and lists, and it's okay, because the final result won't look anything like we expected anyway. Maybe the paint splatter was the difference between a good life and an awesome one. But the point remains that the final result only has meaning because it has borders.



Some moments are so precious that we can't help but hold them close, cupped in our hands like a firefly whose light gives no physical warmth and yet it changes the atmosphere almost tangibly.

I don't talk much about the prayer room or a lot of my experiences with Fire and Fragrance. It's kind of hard now, to be honest. Who would understand unless they've been there? From the fuzzy hours of nightwatch in the basement of Portugal Place to the sleepy peace of a soaking set to the freezing cold auditorium during "Thundering Thursdays." It would be like taking down a transcript of every word that a lover said to you in the confidence of intimacy, and then publishing that transcript for all the world to see.

"I've got joy written on my DNA
You make me happy..."

It was one of a million choruses. And of course, we all ended up dancing and laughing, because who wouldn't? But it is a declaration that has power not when we are content, safe, circumstantially happy, but when we are suffering.

How do you look past pain and sing those words to Him still? How do you face apathy and confusion and still declare that something more is written into who you are? How...


Not Quite Halfway There and Back Again

My tendency with this blog is not to post life updates. Life is best understood in retrospect, or at least, we can pretend it makes more sense that way, so I don't usually see the point in talking about the present. Nonetheless, I recognize the importance of vision or am reminded of it when I forget, which is more often than I would like to admit. Right, so just to break out of the box: life update. And along comes summer.

It has been a strange year of re-acquainting myself with the "real world." DTS is not the real world unless you're called to be a career YWAMmer, in which case, God bless you because it is not for the faint of heart. IMPACT 360 wasn't the real world either. Both good in the lessons I learned and the experiences that I had, but neither of them experientially useful in preparing me for this. Whatever this is.

 I survived my year of community college, although hindsight tells me that I could have done better. Regrets being useless, I look to the future, which involves transferring to the University of Pennsylvania for the fall semester, there to work towards a BA in Philosophy. Having just finished Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, I am a bit daunted by the prospect of it all being incredibly lame, but I am holding onto a glimmer of hope that he was being mostly cynical when he wrote so scathingly of the fictional DuPont College. It's mostly what you make of it, right?

This week is my third at 7 Stones, a little independent coffee shop in Media. It was a little bit like jumping into the deep end knowing only how to tread water. I know most of the stuff, but I have been challenged to remain humble and not allow my pride to assert itself. It's a heck of a lot harder to learn when you're pigheaded, and if I get too know-it-all, I don't know how I'll ever adjust myself to fit an entirely new groove.

In some ways, it all feels a bit empty. The one thing that Fire & Fragrance and IMPACT did provide was a strong sense of unified purpose and vision. We all knew why we were there and we all shared a certain support for one another through the learning process. It is so hard to keep going when you don't have that shared momentum and accountability. Maybe that's why some people get into a serial dating pattern where they don't know how to be alone. For however long it lasts, someone supports you and believes in you, and it feels so good.

At the risk of veering away from life update and into philosophizing, the one-and-only Hadassah once shared with me about a time in her life when she felt like God was removing all of her crutches. I don't know what I have left at this point, but I'm probably holding onto whatever it is fiercely, because it is hard to stand on your own feet. Hard to stand before the naked glory of God and not disintegrate into mush or resent Him or despair. Hard to keep going when you can't remember what you have to live for. That's certainly not what it's like every day. And yet, I kind of appreciate having the rug yanked out from under my feet sometimes, because it reminds me not to be shallow. True, the hard knocks can make us forget, but sometimes instead they make us remember who we are.

One of the things that I have had the joy to remember is that I am a sister. It has been almost a year now that I have lived with Katrina, and it has been so much fun. I was a bit shell-shocked when I moved in last August, and I was also a little freaked out that we might discover that we hated being roommates to the ruination of our relationship. Thankfully, with a few adjustments, we have gotten along capitally. Perhaps more importantly, I've seen more of Maria. Katrina and I at least have had phone conversations over my two years away, but given Maria's busy schedule and crazy course load, we sort of drifted for a while. In that sense, the past ten months have been a gift.

So that's mostly it. There have been friends made and perhaps a few lost through the parting of currents. It would be unfair of me to expect more like Tia and Leah, although I have missed their presence a great deal. And we move on.



I have this friend named Dan. He's a pretty cool guy, as people go. I've never met anyone like him, but that's not saying much, since I have never met anyone who is like anyone else. Anyway, I like him because he occasionally says things that blow my mind. Often, this is quite accidental on his part, and usually the accidental ones are more fun, but sometimes they're intentional, like the other day when he sent me this text: "Think about this when you get a chance: the farther away you move from a 'normal' life the more challenging it is to connect with 'normal' people."

Okay, I'm thinking.

(I love it when people do this. I wish I had someone who could be my Challenging Thought of the Day Person. Send me a text like that at 6AM everyday and watch my brain supernova...)

What I'm asking is: what is normal? Let's define some terms. First, kick out the connotations of "average" and "ordinary," because those are not the point. The point is perspective. Consider the difference between a giant and a dwarf. They see the same things, but from totally different altitudes, and that makes a huge difference in what they perceive as problems and how they go about finding solutions. For the dwarf, reaching things stored overhead is a problem that requires more steps than it does for the giant who does not need an intermediary assistance. Likewise, for the giant, a game of Limbo involves a challenge of flexibility that a dwarf (and most likely everybody else) would laugh to see.

The difference between normal and abnormal comes down to a difference of perspectives. The former is trapped in the mundane, like those people whose lives are spent waiting: for lunch break, for the work day to end, for the weekend, for summer vacation, lather, rinse, repeat. They spend years in the hamster wheel of anticipation until one day they fall off and wake up to find that they've anticipated away hours of valuable heartbeat. "She hates time, / Make it stop; / When did Motley Crue become classic rock?" The minutes tick away silently, and we miss them unless we make a point of holding our eyes open.

The abnormal perspective, which is probably better termed "extraordinary," is that which dwells in two time streams simultaneously. While it is also aware of the present, it is not a passive participant being carried by an inexorable current. Oh, the current still will not be stopped, it is true. But the extraordinary perspective is also cognizant at a higher level of the impact of the past and a vision for the future, both of which can be brought to bear upon the present moments, shaping and directing them as a potter molds the clay on the wheel.

The distinction between the two perspectives is fluid enough that the same person may readily drift between them at different points in his life based on a variety of circumstances. In part, this fluctuation occurs because an extraordinary perspective requires energy to maintain, and often we find it easier to get lost in an opium dream than to face reality head-on and exercise practicality and patience over time.

And the thing is, Dan was right. When you dare to be different, it can be very, very isolating. I once wrote about what it would be like if we didn't know that spring follows winter and that all the plants that seemed dead come back to life. In that world, the high priest would be the farmer, for who has more faith than the man who casts some of his precious store of food into the ground, buries his treasure where no one can see, and then prophesies the miracle of future abundance? Like Noah waiting for rain, he would be shunned as a dreamer at best or an idiot at worst, because tomorrow's bread cannot feed today's hunger. There is a degree of discipline and sacrifice that are necessary, and without the immediate prospect of reward, we do not always have the gumption to deny fleeting pleasure. For those who do have that gumption, the common grounds for conversation begin to dwindle, and eventually, you figure out who your real friends are or maybe you get new ones, because neither perspective finds it easy to understand the other.

It is never easy to be different. But then, easy was never as much fun anyway.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win... Therefore, I run in such a way as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.  {1 Corinthians 9:24, 26-27}


The Seeds That Fell

It's an adrenaline kick, right there are the edge of everything. Your vision narrows. Your heart races. And somehow your feet follow, one after the other, right up to the precipice and into space. You can't stop to think, because if you do - if you pause for even a moment to consider what you're doing - the journey of a few steps can take a lifetime. Die to yourself for a moment, and gain new life at the bottom.

That was something we learned early on in my high school literature classes. Water always means life. And when you're jumping off of a cliff at a waterfall in Brazil, suddenly all of those lectures make sense. It felt like flying and falling and a heart attack and there was pain when I landed wrong, because even good things can hurt. Then, after all of that, after getting sucked by my momentum deep deep underwater, after swimming for the surface but not quite knowing where it was, I emerged weak and gasping for air. And oh, I felt so good.

Life is scary shit. Sometimes it's really, really hard. Sometimes it looks like a cliff that you're walking over, and you're not sure what's at the bottom. But no seed that ever sprouted into a tree could do it without first letting go and falling. The gravity that holds us down helps us up.


First Things

Eyes open to the light on things:
dim morning, raindamp air and open window,
only evidence: a pillow wet with dew.
Like a face that said good-bye too many times,
the tears wore a riverbed in your velvet cheeks
and evaporated.
But not forgotten,
the sweet scent remains,
of memory and of the dream:
a promise unfulfilled,
a promise that-will-be-kept.


Guts and Glory

I don't like politics. That's not much of a starting point, I guess, since lots of people don't, and it's a guaranteed conversational stink bomb, but there's a reason why I rarely choose to comment on current events. It is like a game that brings out the very best and the absolute worst in people, so maybe it should come as no surprise that it turns into such a vicious free-for-all. All of that desire to do good mixed up with a powerful drive to be the one to do it. Like a lighter to thermite, this baby's gonna blow.

The major problem -one of the major problems, for there are several- one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
(from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams)

I was reminded of this quote as I was reading God's Long Summer by Charles Marsh. His topic of discussion is quite interesting (to me anyway): the "use" of God by the civil rights and anti-civil rights movements during the early 1960s. While I'm a mere 37 pages in, it has already been an enlightening journey, and I'm only on Marsh's first biographical sketch depicting the life and activities of a Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. During the summer of 1964, she traveled with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to Atlantic City where she and her companions hoped to win a voice for the severely underrepresented African-Americans of the Mississippi delta at that year's Democratic convention.

And as they fought an uphill battle, what was the incumbent Lyndon Johnson's response? "He was irate that Joseph Rauh, a long-time activist in the Democratic party, had agreed to represent the MFDP as its lawyer. He was angry that the Freedom Democrats had even come to town. When Johnson saw Mrs. Hamer on a news broadcast leading a group of people in the chant 'eleven and eight, eleven and eight,' he called Senator Hubert Humphrey ... and barked, 'You tell that bastard goddamn lawyer friend of yours that there ain't gonna be all that eleven and eight shit at the convention.' ...He worried that excessive patronizing of the MFDP would cost him the entire southern vote." (Marsh)

Granted, I don't know much about that particular election. I don't know much about the politics of Johnson's opponent, Goldwater, although a quick Wiki glance tells me that he voted against the Civil Rights Act. But when I read of such tensions as that or hear about this or that president who was unwilling to stir the waters because, wait for it, he was hoping for re-election... I'm not very convinced that he should be re-elected.

Oh, perhaps he could do so much good in other areas if he were re-elected. But? If he's not willing to take a possibly controversial stance on something that matters, all because he doesn't want to sacrifice a successful bid for power, what sort of willpower will he bring to office? Will he ever accomplish anything worthwhile or will he merely seek to pander to the people?

And that's all I have to say about politics, because any moment now I expect Nathan to text me and tell me that I'm an ignorant child who knows nothing about real life. :)


"The river of joy flows down..."

Water collects in the lowest places. I learned that pretty early on, growing up in the Susquehanna Valley which featured (surprise!) a river. When you need to drink, you don't climb to the mountain tops and draw near to the clouds whence comes the rain. You go far from them, as far as you can, down into the valley.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow..."

Valleys don't have an optimistic history in symbolism. Oh, they have their moments. But as soon as Wesley and Buttercup go tumbling down that hill in The Princess Bride, you can basically guarantee that the shit hath hitteth the fan because fencing Spaniards, wrestling giants, and outwitting crazy Sicilians ain't got nothin' on the Fire Swamp. Maybe if Prince Humperdinck hadn't come along, they could have climbed back up the hill and fled into Guilder, it's true. But once you're in the valley, it will take a hell of a lot to get out, so you might as well start walking toward your doom and pray to whatever god you will that the other side might someday appear.

Something there is that does not love to receive. Maybe it's the remnant of stubbornness left over from when we were kids, and we could tie our own shoes, dammit. We avert our eyes in the grocery store if someone should use food stamps and later fight to pay for a friend's coffee, because God forbid that they should get the bill. And if they do? Solemn and sacred internal vows are made to remember this next time and to repay the debt thus incurred. How dare someone give me something without any desire for remuneration?

It sounds silly, but I do it all the time. I feel like I'm somehow confirming my own power when I can pay for dinner out with my sisters or when I can appear serene and impassive in the face of all of life's cares while other people sob on my comfortable, sturdy shoulder. I like being Miss High-Falutin'-Independent.

It's a facade that doesn't last very long.

Today was my second-to-last tutoring session with Nicole. This is her third go at the introductory algebra class at college, and she has surpassed any expectation she ever had for herself. From wrestling through the first chapters when she had trouble with some fairly basic addition and subtraction to getting her first ever Bs on math tests involving factoring in standard form, this has been such an amazing semester. I can't take credit for the transformation because I know how much work she has put into this, both at home and in class, but it has been a privilege to work with her. And on some level, it made me feel good. We like to give, and that's not a bad thing. But can I receive?

When she gave me two cards (one for my "graduation," which is how she regards my transfer to a BA program) and a gift bag today, I was brought up short, indignant. What kind of ridiculous nonsense is this? I don't require gratitude. I volunteered to help. I like teaching. It's a gift in itself. How dare she think that I should want anything in return?

Humility. To receive from someone who doesn't have much to give, but who gives what she has. It hurts a little bit to fall from the mountaintop- am I too proud to allow her the honor?

This is my choice: to fall gracelessly, like a sack of potatoes thumping down the hillside, or to embrace delight and roll down the hill like a child, giddily allowing gravity to have its way in delivering us to the lowest place where we may find, at last, that the river of joy flows down.


Front Porch Sittin'

Life is a giant mudfight, and ain't nobody gonna get out clean.



New Years Eve, God alone knows how long ago. Maria had taken pity on my introverted loner self and invited me along to Karyn's for what turned into one of my few all-nighters. It was still early in the evening, and we were playing Scattergories with the letter C.

"Ways to get from here to there: catapult"

Funnily enough, another guy there had the same answer, so I didn't get a point for it, but it was the perfect connection, the kind of word fun that still tickles me to think of.

Sometimes, like in Whitman's "Song of Myself," part 46, life is a walk. Sometimes, it's a sprint. Sometimes, it's a marathon. And sometimes, we skip the bit where we use our legs, and we hop onto a catapult that sends us places we weren't prepared to be.

Breathless, confused, uncertain, and trying to cover it all up with an aura of confidence. I can handle this. Can I? Most things take time. Even if we shortcut the process and take flying leaps to get from point A to point B, we have to stop and let ourselves catch up. So the reality is that even if I have landed safely, even if I seem to have everything secure, it's like I'm crumbling to pieces with every step and just trying to hold all of me together. To what end? Not sure. But I guess that's just part of the adventure.


Unveiled Faces

The cool hope stone weighed on my palm
Like a kiss that lingers past its expiration date.
You stuck with me.
It's more than a word or a sentiment;
It's the way all my clothes smell of coffee,
Scent burrs of roast clinging to fibers, glued to skin.
The world isn't falling apart.
Nobody tells me this explicitly, but
I know.
And I will not let go.


I followed the trail of tears and found:
at journey's end, there is death.
There can be no reprieve
in the land of sorrows
where the shadows lie.
But the river of tears, they flow down,
collecting, year by year,
into a midnight lake;
And sometimes, in the blackest hours,
I see the light of home
reflected on the water.


Alien Birthing Techniques

In the midst of chilly winter months, the rare moment of warmth and sunlight cannot go ignored. It was in that line of thought that I wandered out to Ridley Creek one day a few months ago. Few people were on the trails since it was early afternoon on a weekday, so I had plenty of time to dawdle and delay at every beautiful thing that came my way. Somewhere along the line, I was reminded of an idea of Chesterton's, that of the wild and wonderful orthodoxy. All around me were trees slumbering as if dead. We take for granted this annual little passing away, when they shed their greenery and stand naked in unlovely, weather-beaten browns against a bleak gray sky, because we know from experience that springtime will come and this is not the end. But what if we did not remember all of our previous springs? What if all we knew was the present and all we saw were the hordes of spiky creatures seemingly slain by some virulent epidemic? Would we not think that the world had ended?

And yet this denuding must happen. Though the resurrection seems like the product of demented delirium, a fevered response to the most radical of disappointments, any botanist could tell you that a precedent was set in nature long before any woman ever declared to disconsolate disciples that Rabboni had arisen.

This is the way of things, that death clears the way for new life.

More recently, I was walking down those same paths, and I saw a lot of these:

Some leaves had survived the cold winter, clinging to their branches for dear life. But as their color suggests, whatever life they might have is a pale forgery of the real thing. As long as they remain, they prevent the new growth from bursting forth, and they hold back the tree from attaining to a fuller existence.

Sometimes the old things don't like to die. They crawl up, zombie-like, from the graves that we bury them in. And like zombies, they gnaw at our brains, taking up valuable head space with thoughts that no longer deserve to consume our time. Much of human growth is teaching yesterday's loves, though good in their time, how to stay dead.

Like most things, there is a point where we can take that too far though. What we focus on affects our actions and the directions we are going. When I went to the new student orientation at DCCC last August, I met a girl who had spent her summer working as a secretary at a funeral parlor. She said that it was a good-paying job and that it hadn't been too hard to find, but for understandable reasons: she was surrounded by a perpetual atmosphere of death. Recently, I have spent so much time digging graves in my stubborn fight against my own ghosts that I have forgotten how to live. Even as I suffocate my yesterdays, I have to teach myself how to breathe again. And how sweet the air is, when we open up our lungs to the cold, clear air of the morning:

O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,
Dance, and Provencal-song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker of the warm South!
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth...

*Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"



"There are cracks on the surface of the moon,"
she said, and,
"I thought you should know."
It wasn't that long ago that the rains fell in Paradise,
but I hear that all is cyclical:
the infinite loopsnake biting his tail.
I guess that makes this the dry season.
If we squint against the sun to the horizon,
will we go blind?
Or will we smell hope
as the thunderheads roll in?

My God, is that a mutant?!

It seemed like a catchy title, but as usual, you would have to try very hard to make it suit the subject matter.

Here's the thing about writing: there are a lot of different ways to go about doing the same thing. Even simple actions, like those of a waitress pouring coffee into a your mug at the diner, can be done with sufficient flair to transform them. Nuances make or break a moment, a conversation, a holiday meal with family.

Depending on the day, the hour, or the assignment, how I write and why I write can totally change. For instance, lately I have been writing a lot of poetry because it frames emotions easily, and poetry is like a bite-sized punch or like getting sprayed by a skunk: it's potent stuff. Earlier today, I really, really wanted to write so that I could organize all of the questions and possibilities that floated like surprisingly active pond scum on the surface of my mental swamp. Conversations about future retrospection do that to me.

The guts and the glory of the matter is that writing is an outlet. In the closed space of my mind, there are only two ways to air it out: the incoming vents and the outgoing vents. Writing is an outgoing vent, a way of letting some of the murky vapors escape from my inner chemistry experiments and pretentious mental pipe smoking. But the thing is, sometimes I need stuff to stay inside. Pressure can be painful, but it can also be a means of focus. All too often, when I write it out, I lose some of its significance and let it pass to the wayside, whereas when I'm too busy to scribble, I tend to keep chewing at the thought, desperate not to lose it until I can save its essence on paper. Weird, how, with the intention of saving an idea, I externalize it and thereby make it all the easier to forget.

Ideas should transform us. They should motivate us to action, focus our behaviors, and alter our interactions with others. But often it seems like the greatest work is done in silence, half-hidden away from our eyes. Who am I and where have I come from/am I going to? These are questions that I think I know the answers to until a glance back in time reminds me that my vision is so limited because I only look at the surface and never bother with the depths. And tangentially, just in case future me is reading over this post again, remember what I told you today: there are also many moments of joy, even if your head is too fogged up to find them.

So, two shots of espresso and an iced tea later, I'm not sure where this is going. My idea apparently did not come to a sharp point, but it has cleared the clouds from the horizon, so I think shall end by gazing upon a sunset and saying goodnight.


Parchment Thin Skin

I burned the ground between us,
Set the whole forest ablaze:
And all it took was matches.
Matches and dry wood.
Matches, dry wood, and sweaty tooth grit.
You thought it was easy?
Think again.
I do nothing lightly, but
I've lit up our world.
By fire's glow
We both look like skeletons.
They tell me that's what happens when you die.


A Different Dream

A crack broke the serene silence
On the day the bridge fell.
Ton upon ton of masonry tumbling:
So much for strength in arches and stone.
Now I stand with toes grappling into the clay,
The body fisher, I, pulling death from the river;
And every cold, white face is my own.

Where, O shepherd's dog,
Where is the house of refuge?
Where are the hands that heal
And soothe the pain away?
Where is the master calling, calling,
Who walks in light of day?
He washes the tears that are falling, falling,
And shines the light of day.

So I'll pull me from the river
And rest on this red clay
And waiting for the shepherd's dog,
And waiting for the shepherd,
Upon this bank I'll stay.


Cemetary of Dreams

Thoughts on Home, part the nth

Why does this topic matter so much that it should deserve so much consideration? Maybe because home is as much about the heart as it is about geographic placeholders.

It seems like every time I pause to consider life, I come face to face with that same old Jon Foreman song, "Southbound Train." And with each passing season, it only becomes more true, those most painful of words, that "I'm not so sure / that home is a place / you can still get to by train." True, they've meant different things at different times. When I left England, it was a pretty literal problem of bridging the Atlantic. Then too there was the feeling of time: home as a place in the past that could never be re-entered. These days it's more the sensation of falling out of time and losing synchronicity with the pulse of a world to call my own.

Maybe home is like tiramisu. It has multiple layers and each layer has a different taste and texture, but the unified whole tastes like a slice of heaven. Because place is important, but so are people. And then too, there's something else needed because I loved Agua Viva and my team in Brazil, but we were definitely not home there either. I think the final ingredient in the slapdash recipe is something a little bit harder to define, but it has a lot to do with time. We are shaped by our surroundings, but we also shape them, "like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood." That's a process that requires investment, interaction, and a generosity of years. And maybe that's why I'm the dunderhead that keeps returning to this topic like it's so difficult and intriguing: because I won't give it time. Always walking with silly, up-turned nose to the wind, wondering what excitement and new territories are waiting to be discovered elsewhere, never appreciating the wild world behind my own front door. Maybe I'm afraid to stay: after all, the pain piles up alongside the joy, so that even if we do manage to make our way to that place, we find that we are still learning how to grow up toward the light. Always running, always tripping and falling, mastering the art of standing up, and limping onward on borrowed hope.


Drops of Moonshine

How do I choose to live with my eyes open?

I am broken, but when a broken person looks at herself in a broken mirror, she thinks she's okay. The only time we know our own brokenness is when someone unties the shoelaces holding us together. A million jagged pieces laying helter skelter on the floor: every fragment a memory, a sensation, a friend, a sticky cobwebbed spider string here and a drop of moonshine there. Every forbidden thought you've ever had mingling indifferently with dreams of elves and courage.

It's a reciprocal relationship, this catching sight of brokenness thing. Sometimes the child yanking loose the knot is the sight of another person's splinters and seams. Through the lens of Marie's crazy shouting and shuffling, I see my own desperate need for attention that has been carefully smothered by the layers of social correctness. Sometimes, in moments of honest self-evaluation, I see myself for what I truly am and so unveil the unpolished spaces of a friend. I have known guilt and shame. You tell me your story, and I have lived it too, I have inhaled and exhaled through those same moments, I can read between the lines to the fuller meaning.

But is that all we ever get to see?

It is not naivete to peer through the cracks. Though the wallpaper of our world can be ugly, it has been slapped on over something beautiful. And then too, it is a rare room whose walls are entirely unbroken by a window, that glimpse of something else entirely. We have mystery. We have beauty. We have hope.

The wonder is this: that we feel so much pain, but we absorb it into our soft flesh while our skeletons stand strong. I am not untouched, not completely resilient, but I am still standing, and my eyes have been left intact. Though vision may fog, all mists clear in the light of the sun, and I will wake up to glory when the morning comes.



I'm the editor of DCCC's literary magazine, Pegasus. Apparently every year we have a guest author: someone who lives locally and has been published, who can give advice to would be writers and provide some insight into the creative process. This year, we are featuring Dennis Finocchiaro, whose works have been published in various magazines and even a book or two. As I was searching his blog for some of his flash fiction, I found this. It might be the most perfect thing I have ever read.

In Public

Vignettes. Bubbles. Suggestive dialogue. It's the good life :)


When It Rains

Eyes open, I eat the vision:
poets and philosophers alike
grasped the natural
and called it the numinous.
Cloud gray, pine green, dead leaves.
The rain falls on lake, on soil the same,
One for the music, one for the life.
In this moment, I am wealthy,
enriched by the immanent present
and the soul kiss of immanent Presence;
tasting color, touching song
knowing I'm alive
without dying to feel it.


Subterranean Homesick Alien

"The world has changed..."

"Be still, my child."

"The art of losing myself in bringing You praise-"

Wherever we are, whatever environment we find ourselves in, we mold our perspective to fit the shape and texture of that place. For the past month or so, my perspective has been that of a fish trapped inside a midnight fishbowl: looking out always on the same, dark scene, with little variety and little activity, save for the dubious delight of pacing back and forth over the same stretch of territory until the bottoms of my feet can see better where I am going than my half-blinded eyes.

It is painful to be reminded of what you once were. I was without horizons. Though the trees might rise up and limit the sky, theirs is a porous boundary line that cannot be compared to the unyielding, geometric undulations of skyscrapers and rooftops. In the world-that-was, I might dream of mystery, like what lies beyond the edges of the universe or the everyday wonder of the nature of a chair. Gargoyles and griffins are playmates when you dare let them close enough: better to laugh at an unsolvable riddle than to allow it to consume you.

When I left IMPACT, I didn't want to come home because I was afraid that I wouldn't fit there, like a square peg in a round hole. Now, I find that it is hard to come back to IMPACT, because every experience, however minute, is a chisel cut that liberates our form from the rock. I do not know how to show the meantime: the rough edges and the places where a shaky hand cut askew. "To be known and loved anyway." Do I dare be known again?



Shimmering, opalescent:
a breath held prisoner
in an airborne cage.
Bars made of dreams,
of soap slick film floating
-to the stars?
Or merely to an unseen point
where they will break and let fall
my lip's exhalation;
a Lucifer-bright meteor,
here and gone.


Lost and Found

Timesickness. That bone deep longing for a place and a group of people. If you have lived well for any period of time, it is hard to avoid, even as you fight to weigh down the present moments and dwell in this time and this place. Sometimes it's just a fleeting butterfly brush: when I think of meeting Hayden in Chicago, or when I remember walking through the Badenburg at Schloss Nymphenburg near Munich and the way the rain looked as it stained the corroded lions with water streaks and kissed its own reflection in the lake. Sometimes it's an unshakeable, visceral stranglehold like the way it feels to remember too many little details about my time in England from an open window in an attic in Portugal Place to chilly Easter Skype chats at a prayer room in Durham.

We want so desperately to be here and now, but the memories tug and strain to pull us under. And if we do dare to enter time and break old boundaries, then we are only creating more such memories. How do we deal with these warring spaces of time, looking back, forward, and to either side?

I think one of my biggest takeaways from this weekend is that every good thing comes with a sting of pain. Oh, it was good to see Carol Anne and Charles, to process more of what Impact was and how it has shaped where we are going, to remember that there is more to me than there is to me and she's not lost forever. But it also hurt because it meant growing, which is a painful process not unlike working out for the first time after the winter holiday season. I started one conversation with Charles with the rather pessimistic, "Hope sucks," and while that by no means ended the conversation too, I still hold to that. We have to hope and dream or else, as Emma Goldman said rightly, we die. But "hope deferred makes the heart sick:" that's not hope that we've given up or lost, it's hope that we still have, that fires us for the future. As much as they bring us life, our hopes can also leave us living death.

That's why Revelation 21 hurts. Because every beautiful thing is a foreshadowing of consummation, and as much as our longing increases with each encounter with beauty, we have to wait with deferred hope for the day when He says, "Behold, I make all things new." Until that day, our sweetest fruit has the bitter aftertaste of a fall from grace. Our closest friendships require a daily combat against the drag of brokenness. Our dearest hopes both delight and wound us. It is already, but oh, it is not yet, and that makes all the difference.


Living with Future Retrospection

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
"This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."

From this article on The Guardian's website.

This evening, I was cleaning the bar and chatting with a new friend and evening regular, Dan. We ended up talking about ages, because he keeps referring to himself as if he were a hideously old man (all of 31 eons- I mean years old) but he joked that people usually think he's twelve. I, on the other hand, frequently get an older approximation, anywhere from two to five years beyond my age. Age is a funny thing. Sometimes it's meaningless, and sometimes it means everything.

In the course of the aforementioned conversation, I touched on something that has been bothering me lately, and it's exactly what the palliative care nurse was talking about when she spoke of unfulfilled dreams. I know I'm fairly young, and I've lived so little of my life, but I feel like I am at a pivotal point. Up until now, most of my commitments have been rash, spur of the moment things dictated by circumstance and opportunity. But at last, I have certain possibilities open to me that involve discipline, sacrifice, and a longstanding commitment (I'm talking about college here, before rumors get started). My first response was pretty pathetic: I had my selfish little fetal position pity party. But eventually my second wind caught up to me. In some ways, it can be hard to give up the security and the comforts that we cling to because, quite simply, they are pleasant. They are even good, in all of their God-ordained glory. But they are also not all there is to life. And so we suffer little in the present so that we might attain much in the future. It is invigorating to be called thus higher.

Something there is that does not love to live ordinary. I can't do it. God, not yet. Please, not ever. I want so much more than this, even though it freaks me out to ask You for anything bigger than what I have. Let's do this thing.


Post-4 Essay Blues Notes

To pour oneself out
in typeface black
in twelve-point font:
emptied, I am
the verbal libation.
All that remains
of this, my bounteous feast;
dry crusts and sour wine:
the dregs.


That old gospel music

So if I had tons of money, I would splurge on an iTunes hymn cd buying spree... And there might be a few of The Black Keys' cds in there too, but shh. Anyway, a taste of the music:


Dear blog,
How have you been doing lately? Whenever I read your posts, you seem to be needlessly cynical and tired. Maybe it's time for a little pick me up. So consider this my gift to you: a non-exhausted, delightful muse on the glory of God.

Yours always,

Today's sermon was on... Well, I can't quite remember. It had something to do with the contrasts between the old and new covenant in 2 Corinthians 3, but honestly, I got distracted with journaling through a few things from worship, and then I saw verse 18 and I was a goner. Gosh, this is fun. Just thinking about it makes me a little bit giddy.

I love the story of Moses encountering the glory of God and Israel's response. It is both heartbreaking because of their rejection and uplifting because we are offered that same choice to behold His beauty. That last phrase is borrowed from a song that Tiffany Aitken often sings when she leads worship at Life Center: "Put Your beauty on display / Around me / Put Your goodness on display / To You be / All honor, glory, and praise forever and ever ... / We have come to behold Your beauty / Drink in Your goodness / And give you praise..." It's such a powerful song because it expresses something deep inside our hearts: we want to see Him.

Exodus 33 tells the story of a rebellious people who would only allow God to rest nearby rather than in their midst. Oh, maybe that's an overly harsh interpretation of why the Tent of Meeting was placed outside of the camp. I might also say that perhaps God desired to establish that pattern of Him pursuing us pursuing Him, that anyone who wanted Him would have to "go ye." David changed all of that when he placed the Tabernacle in the middle of the city, but that was several hundred years later. In this time and this place, they were former slaves wrestling with this strange reversal of circumstances by a God who scared them more than their brutal former masters. ("Not as slaves, but as sons!" Oh that's a good one too... *happy sigh*)

Right. So in their midst, we get a glimpse of a few guys who have come a long way since slavery and who realize that they want God more than they fear Him. He might not be safe, but He is good. It's in the middle of that discussion that we end up with Joshua remaining behind to catch every last drop of the rain of God's presence. But Moses took it a step further. One day, as he was chatting with God about ways to save these stubborn Israelites from themselves (oh wait, did I mention - he was chatting with God?! And that in the same verse where it talks about Joshua staying behind, it says that he did so "face to face, as a man speaks to his friend"? Whoa show shaka dakine and then some), Moses sort of casually slips in there, "Hey God, we've been through some tough times together and since You literally JUST said that I have Your favor ... Uh, can I see Your glory? Pretty please?"

And God says... Not exactly yes. Apparently it's a pretty common feature of deities that you can't look on them in their full godliness or you'll die. Zeus was apparently kind of stupid about that one on multiple occasions. But hey, this is not a light request we're making. The human mind was made to hold the universe at most and nothing more. How can we who are bounded by laws and natural order even begin to comprehend the sight of the Most High?

Instead of saying that He'll show Himself to Moses, He says He'll do three things: 1) He'll make all His goodness pass before Moses. What does that even begin to mean? Apparently we can only handle one attribute of God at a time, and even then we'll be missing about 99.9% of the fullness of God in that one area. What the? Who is this God?! 2) He will proclaim the name of the Lord (i.e. His name) before Moses. Tangent: The first task ever assigned to Man was to name all created things. In some ways, this is an extension of his dominion over creation. In many cultures, the idea of naming as a divine superpower is pretty strong. The Mesopotamians unsurprisingly shared this belief, as did I think the Egyptians and the Mayans if I remember much from my mythology class. So to have someone's name might mean control over them. What do you do with a God who doesn't give you a name, just His state of being? I AM THAT I AM, the completely uncontrollable God. Apparently Moses has matured since his encounter with the burning bush because God was about to do some proclaiming.

After those two offers, there is no response from Moses, but God seems to be having some kind of inner monologue (dialogue?) because He says that Moses can't see His face, but then He makes this "seeing Him" thing happen. So 3) He'll tuck Moses into a cleft of the rock and then after He has passed by, Moses can see His back (or as someone once put it, probably Rob Bell, the place where He was a moment ago). I especially enjoy the latter translation. Imagine a God so mindblowing that we can only just handle seeing the place where He just was - and that, only after we've spent hundreds of hours acclimating ourselves to His veiled presence.

Moses ends up hanging out on the mountain for forty days and nights, neither eating nor, get this, drinking. Boo yah, three day maximum. When he comes down from the mountain, his face is glowing with the radiance of exposure to God's glory. Exodus 34:30 says, "When Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him."

Let's get one thing straight: God is not safe. It's the Aslan comparison all over again. So they were right to fear the Lord. But at the same time, He is good. When we know the fear of the Lord without experiencing the love of God, we either reject Him or become intensely cruel as we become like what we worship. The heartbreak of this story is that God's own people asked Moses to veil his face because they were afraid of their God. What we fear, we do not fully trust. What we do not trust, we keep aloof from. What we keep aloof from, we harden our minds toward. How to receive as a Lover the God whom we fear?

And in the midst of that burden, He says, "Look at Me. Behold My beauty. Look at the place where I just was." If we can open our eyes for but a moment to gaze on His face, we will never be the same. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says that we are beholding the glory of the Lord in a mirror and it's changing us. We don't even have to look directly at Him: His reflection does the work. The cool thing is, Moses's face was veiled because the people couldn't handle it. He had seemingly become the reflection of God's glory. An if we're all walking around with unveiled faces, we get to experience God's glory both one-on-one and as a community of believers. The radiance of your face is not the same as the radiance of my face, because God has shown us different aspects of who He is based on what we need and what we are seeking. Together, we can participate in the teaching experience by building one another up in the knowledge of Him.

So in case you were wondering: God is awesome. He's unbelievably hard to wrap your mind around, probably because He's infinite, and He is unbelievably fun. Even though I'm not-so-secretly in love with the Doctor, I would hang out with God over taking a ride in the TARDIS any day. Oh, oops, conviction. Do I make that choice in everyday life? Okay, we'll save that discussion for another day ;)


Garbage Man, Garbage Man...

There's a legitimate reason why I am more likely to blog when I am working on essays, and it's really an almost elegantly simple one. Essays are very structured and bounded, written with a particular audience in mind. In order to focus on what I should write, I have to empty the rest of the stuff that is muddling up my head so I can see clear to the other side.

The question I'm supposed to be answering is about my wish to attend Thomas Aquinas College. Do I know the structure and special nature of the program? Do I understand and accept what it means?

The answer I'm not going to give is this one: I have finally reached the point where I almost don't care if I go to any college much less a Great Books one. Every single school that I have been intensely interested in has turned out to be too expensive. Even after $19,000 in scholarships, King's was ridiculous. Biola didn't offer that much and they were even more costly. Thomas More wasn't too bad, but it was still enough that I was unwilling to make the transition. So the reality is, dear admissions folks, that I am tired. I am tired of writing essays about how much I love learning and how much the structure of your program appeals to me. I know exactly what Great Books involves and that's actually why I found you and was even remotely interested in applying. I love it: getting to read all of the originals, discuss them, and write about them - that sounds like holidays all year round. But the reality is that you will probably be too expensive for me. I don't want to write 7-15 pages worth of bs about how awesome you are because you're not original. You're just Plan J and you're asking a lot of me right now and I don't have a single creative way to say all of the same tired sentiments that I've been saying on the other eight + one applications that I have submitted.

Dear college education: you shouldn't be cheapened like this. But now you're selling yourself to the highest bidder like a pricey call girl, and that's not what I wanted. I want true love, and all you're offering is sex. I want our time together to lead me to higher planes of thought and perception, but all I'm left with is an aftertaste of bitter disappointment and the vague sensation of mental exhaustion. I never intended to treat you like you could be my salvation, but you were the logical next step and now I've tripped and fallen down the stairs. So where does that leave us?

I'm not sure. But I don't think this is going to help me write my essay.

Sorry for the melodrama. It has been a long day, and ChickfilA doesn't deliver.


What Will You Give?

I'm supposed to be writing a paper on determinism, free will, and moral responsibility right now. Apparently no one told Pandora that this would not be a good time to distract me, because City & Colour's song, "The Girl," just came up on my Josh Garrels station.

It's a really sweet song about how this guy is so grateful to his girl for staying true to him while he's off living his dream, and how he wishes that he could do better.

I wish I could do better by you
'Cause that's what you deserve
You sacrifice so much of your life
In order for this to work

While I'm off chasing my own dreams
Sailing around the world
Please, know that I'm yours to keep
My beautiful girl

Maybe it's silly, but that song reminds me of all of the reasons why I don't know if I should ever be married. For starters, all of the soft, emotional, I'm a girl so of course I love Disney princesses when I'm not making fun of them parts of me are all in favor of marriage. But there's a reason why I've always secretly (or not so secretly) sympathized with Brennan's character on Bones: when I see practical considerations that override an emotional response, I usually go in favor of the practical at the expense of the emotional. If that were not the case, I'd probably be in my third semester at CIU.

The thing is, I don't want to be that girl. Hmm, well, redaction: I'm more concerned that I would be in the singer's position. There is too much that I want to do, too many places I want to see. I don't want to settle down in virtually the same place I grew up. I want to live in another country or at least travel a lot, and to be honest, very few guys that I've known seem inclined in that direction. I would never want to ask someone to be the one waiting loyally either. 

But that seems like such a thin excuse when it's laid out like that. If my heart says yes and my head says no, maybe it's just an attempt at self-protection. God forbid that the independent one should expose her brokenness, quiet her flightiness, and rest at peace in another song lyric, that "home is wherever I'm with you."

So much of my past few years has been a tug of war with home. I have a home: a place where random waitresses recognize me, no road leads to an unknown destination, and life is predictable. Or perhaps it's the people who I've known and loved through 21 years of knowing and loving, and home is wherever I am so long as they are no further than a phone call. Maybe this wandering grey pilgrim who will not be satisfied where she's at just needs to teach her restless heart a song of thanksgiving and put away her suitcases to gather dust.

Is that the right answer?

Because usually when I ask, the only thing I hear is, "Trust."

It's not very satisfying.

(In case you're confused, so am I. Not sure how I got from point A to point Z, but I blame Bon Iver and Peter Bradley Adams)


Dialectics and Real Life

A confession: I don't always like to write about things that I am experiencing. It's an ever-present inner battle between linguistic determinism and memory loss. To forget this moment, why that would be a tragedy, like dropping diamonds into a sewer grate. But to lock so much feeling and so much ... muchness into a prison of words... That too would be a loss.

They say the difference between a tragedy and a comedy is that in a tragedy, everybody dies, but in a comedy, someone gets married. I don't see any marital prospects for this little humdinger until I can remember everything, but the psychology textbook tells me that my memory will only get worse before it gets better.

Then again, the last time I was resistant to the power of words, the memory turned out to be painful rather than joyous. Maybe I should learn from that time and imprison this one before it has a chance to flay my heart open?

I guess, in the end, it doesn't really matter what I do. I've been complimented on my way of putting thoughts into words, and Leah even said this past weekend that if I published my journals, she would read them. I suspect that they are rather less exciting than she seems to believe, or perhaps they are more exciting than I seem to believe? Either way, I am bound because I want to savor my memories and chew every flavor of their bountiful array, but no one else can appreciate them as much as I do until I surrender them to phonemes and morphemes, at which point, they will be given to the world but lost to me.

All that, because every time I listen to Kristene Mueller's "Praise the Lord," I want to weep over the simplicity of beauty and the way Julia looked as she walked up the aisle and the way nothing is the same but we don't give up on each other we keep fighting and we take the pain because we know that "every lament is a love song," and maybe some day our love songs will not be laments.*

*Lament for a Son, Wolterstorff


Just for Fun - Book List 2011

I keep a record of the books that I read each year, mostly to avoid driving myself crazy at a later date when I try to remember the name of that one book where that one character said/did that one thing... So without further ado, the list:

2011 Book List
1. Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World- Joanna Weaver
2. Uprising- Erwin Raphael McManus
3. Why Revival Tarries- Leonard Ravenhill
4. Can Man Live Without God- Ravi Zacharias
5. Redeeming Love- Francine Rivers*
6. Think- John Piper
7. Traveling Mercies- Anne LaMott
8. Nazirite DNA- Lou Engle
9. Red Moon Rising- Peter Greig and Dave Roberts
10. The Book That Transforms Nations- Loren Cunningham
11. The Ball and the Cross- G.K. Chesterton
12. The Cost of Discipleship- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
13. Forgotten God- Francis Chan
14. Letters to Malcolm: Thoughts on Prayer- C.S. Lewis
15. Miracle Workers, Reformers, and The New Mystics- John Crowder
16. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire- J.K. Rowling*
17. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix- J.K. Rowling*
18. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince- J.K. Rowling*
19. Persuasion- Jane Austen*
20. The Pilgrim's Regress- C.S. Lewis
21. Manalive- G.K. Chesterton
22. The Scarlet Pimpernel- Baroness Orczy
23. Uglies- Scott Westerfield
24. Pretties- Scott Westerfield
25. Specials- Scott Westerfield
26. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- J.K. Rowling*
27. The Red Garden- Alice Hoffman
28. Airborn- Kenneth Oppel
29. A Third Testament- Malcolm Muggeridge
30. The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
31. Unseen Academicals- Terry Pratchett
32. The Prodigal God- Timothy Keller
33. How Shakespeare Changed Everything- Stephen Marche
34. A Grief Observed- C.S. Lewis
35. She-Wolves- Helen Castor
36. The Irresistible Revolution- Shane Claiborne
37. Christy- Catherine Marshall*
38. Idylls of the King- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
39. Ben Hur- Lew Wallace
40. Love Walked In- Marisa de los Santos*
41. The Great Game- Frederick P. Hitz
42. G.K. Chesterton- Michael Ffinch
43. The Salmon of Doubt- Douglas Adams
44. Lost in a Good Book- Jasper Fforde
45. The Memory-Keeper's Daughter- Kim Edwards
46. The Well of Lost Plots- Jasper Fforde
47. Alfred the Great: The Man Who Made England- Justin Pollard
48. Snow Crash- Neal Stephenson
49. Something Rotten- Jasper Fforde
50. Rakkety Tam- Brian Jacques
51. Little Dorrit- Charles Dickens
52. Rules of Civility- Amor Towles
53. Fire and Hemlock- Diana Wynne Jones*
54. Thursday Next: First Among Sequels- Jasper Fforde
55. Cluny: The Search for God's Lost Empire- Edwin Mullins
56. Water for Elephants- Sara Gruen
57. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe- H.R. Ellis Davidson
58. Russian Fairy Tales- Moura Budberg
59. Jude the Obscure- Thomas Hardy
60. The Human Factor- Graham Greene
61. Through Gates of Splendor- Elisabeth Elliot

*denotes a book which I have (probably) read before