Sunday, August 2, 2020

Kindness Makes Me Cry




What a month it has been. . . In the last 30 days I have flown on 2 airplanes, been in 1 wedding, attended a second wedding, eaten Chipotle during 2 wedding weekends, danced for at least 2 hours, hand-written 25+ pages (double-sided), talked on the phone for 33 hours, worked more hours that I want to count, welcomed 1 new baby into our community, and lost 1 friend to death.

Two weeks ago I experienced one of the hardest weeks of the year. In the span of seven days I was asked to resign as an editor over a difference of opinions, had to kill a suffering mouse with a rock, offered a listening ear to an upset friend, found out a different friend ended their life, and had to have a hard personal conversation with yet another friend. I called it the week from Hell, because so much of that week was shot through with death in one form or another, and that is the work of Hell.

But this past week was balm to my soul. I didn't work overtime. My sweet neighbour came over for dinner and a walk. My Scripture circle met under a double rainbow, sharing some things I've been chewing on this week—or more accurately, things that have been chewing on me. I wrote my heart out. I got to spend three precious hours with one of my best friends. A couple of friends and my family were so kind to pray for me and check in on me often. My sister sent me a box of sunshine. The friend who needed a listener sent me cheese, chocolate, and flowers in the form of a totally unexpected gift-card. The CEO of our company wrote me a kind note and gave me a gift-card for my ten year anniversary at work. And today, my boss got married. 

Just like the Hell-week had redemptive moments and hours, this balm-week had its dark moments and its bitter tears. But there were so many good conversations in both weeks. So many walks and cups of tea and scudding clouds across the moon. There were invitations into sorrow and invitations into deep joy. There were things that scared me, but I did them. There were things that wounded me and others, but we are walking with one another into healing.

This evening, in the midst of deep joy and fun on the dance floor, without warning, familiar notes washed over the room. I've never seen so many people scatter for exits so quickly when there was no emergency. . . The DJ couldn't have known that playing "Don't Stop Believin" would be incredibly painful for nearly a dozen people. He couldn't have known that a few days ago we found out our friend, Mike, was dead. "Don't Stop Believin" was Mike's theme song. If I heard it blasted from the classroom once a summer, I heard it half a dozen times a summer. I like that song, but tonight it made me sad. Yet, in a way, it was like Mike was there in spirit. Like maybe he was dancing, too. 

This week so many beautiful, good, kind, and joy-filled things happened. It doesn't fill the maw of Hell-week. No. In some ways, it stuffs goodness down the throat of the aching blackness and still overflows everywhere. And in some ways, that gaping emptiness of Hell-week carves a pit in the many of us it touched. The wound of death does not heal here, not fully. I will always bleed a little of my heart out for the friend I lost nearly two years ago. Our world will always bleed a little for the loss of Mike. Goodness doesn't fix the not good. 

Sorrow and grief over many things still clench my heart and make me cry. But the kindness of family and friends also makes me cry. The deep gift of love, the deep joy of watching my friends get married makes me cry. I cried hearing my friends exchange their wedding vows and hearing their people toast them. And I cried tears of loss watching the father-daughter dance, because I want to get that experience and I don't know that I ever will. And simultaneously, I cried tears of anger and hurt that a person who might have given me that chance declined to even try. And I cried the achingly sweet tears that come when you hear grown men say "My life is what it is partly because of you, and I love you" to another man in front of a whole crowd of people. 

Hell-week wasn't all bad. And balm-week wasn't all good. Even something so beautiful and deeply good as a wedding brought all kinds of mixed emotions—joy, pain, sweetness, grief, and hope... Hope of these friends birthing light in the darkness our world is falling into. And lest it all sounds like this hope or joy or kindness springs from my friends, it doesn't. Its source is God the Father, showering His deep affection on us (often through other people) where we are—whether that is a place of pain or gladness, or a mix of sorrow, joy, sadness, loss, hurt, and hope all co-mingled. And let's be honest, we're often an amalgamation of emotions, not feeling one at once, but many (even conflicting) emotions at once. That is the agony and the beauty of being human.

Grief makes me weep. Sorrow makes my heart bleed. But alongside these, kindness makes me cry.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart




Things I'm thankful for today. . .


  • Little birds twittering in the trees above my porch

  • Gentle warmth and cloud cover and sunlight dancing through leaves

  • Delectable tea... I blended Black Cask Bourbon, New England Breakfast, and Tippy Yunan for this morning's brew.

  • Colours! Gentle yellow-white light filtered through verdant leaves; pale green avocado, bright red strawberries, creamy orange apricots, and Polish pottery cerulean; magenta geraniums peeking out of the flowerbox next to a cheery yellow watering can... Colour, colour everywhere!




  • Music. I adore music. Good music, that is. Today that is Joy Williams. Recently it has been The Petersens, Hollow Coves, Peter Bradley Adams, and The Western Den.

  • Friends. I am oh-so-thankful for friends! Whether it is friends I have known a hundred years (give or take a zero) sitting across the way journalling in quiet, or friends I haven't seen in years who text me "Less than a week!" when I am finally going to see them soon, or friends I've only known a year or two... I'm thankful for their presence; their heart-sharing; their life-sharing; their love; their wisdom; their differences of opinion (even when I don't like it); their grace; their truth-telling; their e-mails with links to books, poems, sermons, music, and more; their sharing the face of Jesus with me in different facets.

  • Kindness from almost-friends. What to call these people whom I pray for and care for, but I'm not really "friends" with exactly? Almost-friends, that's what. They are the people who remember that you would like them to deliver this big box to an address not on the box (please-and-thank-you), the ones who stand at your door and chat about random things for a few minutes in their busy day, who deliver the mail, who make your day just a little brighter by being them and by being kind.

  • The dobro (resonator guitar). Seriously, this is a cool instrument. [My favourite line in this song is "tea leaves steep"—of course.]

  • Words—luscious, rich, bright, deep, painful, heart-splitting, heart-healing words.

  • Prayer. Specifically the prayers of Every Moment Holy. There is a liturgy for all kinds of things: sunsets and birthdays, first snows and the the lament of finishing a good book... All kinds of prayers to make us stop and attend to this life we are living.

  • There are a hundred other things I'm thankful for, but one of them is work, which I need to do right now...   

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Shalom






Sunlight eagerly pours through white windowpanes, spilling its warmth and hope across my soft chairs, onto my knee, pooling on the floor. A little bird is hailing the day star and Arvo Pärt's Nunc dimittis gently adds its soft refrain.

A friend gifted me a set of four, Polish pottery luncheon plates, one of which is now full with a burst of raspberries, lustrous orange slices, and butter-seared banana bread. My globe-like green Polish mug is nestled on my lap, counter-balancing the morning breeze, keeping me just right.

Something about Spring mornings feels enlivening and hopeful, it feels like home. Something about Spring pushes me to dust dressers, window ledges, and chair legs. It reorders my time and my newly-polished spaces. I often choose to have fresh flowers in my home, but today I have a mason jar full of dried lavender for the sun to warm. There is also a cheery bunch of tiny purple waxflowers and their still-smaller buds, overflowing from a simple glass vase.

There is an excitement in Spring that I cannot overlook in my deep love for Winter. Everywhere I turn is life, light, and freshness. At least, in the natural world, that is what I see. I see the rhythms that have always been continuing. And that is where I want to rest this morning—not to forget the pall that has fallen over our world—but for now, to be present to the renewed order, teeming life, and refreshing breeze all speaking "Peace, be still" to my soul.

Think of the disciples in the storm-tossed boat. They could only see, experience, and think about the raging squall around them. Jesus was sleeping, not unconcerned, but in full trust. As that joyful little bird trills his heart out, I want to join him. As the sun warms the earth, I want to bask in it. As the Father whispers, Peace. Be still, I want to sink into this place of rest, trust, and hope.



Saturday, March 14, 2020

Noli Timere



The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.




A Psalm of David

The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall [experience nothing as lacking]. He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.

Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with [a]oil; my [brimming] cup runs over. Only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.





Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Juxtaposed



Starry stubs of light
pool time in waxen white
flowing from this shadowed season
when sadness should be bright

In darkness tinged with light
we wait the coming time
when God sneaks in like treason
and all will be made right

But this time it's different
The subtle shades of Lent
look more like darkened joy,
like the negative of a print

Everything is going in reverse
all the bright is coming first,
and then darkness rushes in
swallowing the light of the universe

Is there Easter at the end,
or a deeper darkness to wend
through before day rises,
edged in shade as I am unmade?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

In this bright hour...even the mountains know you're gone



Dear Aaron,

Gloaming has always been my favourite time of day, even since I was a small child. The words gloaming and twilight have a romantic, magical air to them. Dusk brings with it certain smells, a slowing down, a stillness, a place for pondering and reflecting.


I never knew the dusk could seem so sad,
an empty aching in my soul.
In this bright hour I speak your name in the wind,
the shining world outlasts us all.


Unlike the author of this song, I know about dusk: it can wring my heart of many tears. Dusk is when I slow down enough to listen to my thoughts, 
my heart, and the Holy Spirit. . .Especially in the Spring through the Autumn, when I can sit on my porch as the light fades. In this bright hour, fading from colour to grey, the ache permeates my soul. Not a throb, not a piercing pain. . .a continual ache. Like arthritis, steady and dull, but very present.

How many evenings have I whispered into this gloaming that I miss you? And how many hours in years past did I sit at my desk or on the porch, grasping for the last light of day to see by as I wrote to you? The smell of Spring and fresh turned earth makes me think of evenings spent reading poems until I couldn't see the words on the page. Poems we discussed, and at least one that you memorised, reciting it on my voicemail. How heartbroken I am not to have that voicemail still.


Even the mountains seem to know you're gone,
the foothills shimmer where they stand.
The sky is still and much too beautiful,
and I am missing you again.


In the quiet, as the mountain turns from rose to periwinkle-grey, I feel a profound sense of loss and loneliness. I miss you so much it hurts. There are times when I get alternately sad and angry that you never came back to Colorado. Never saw my home. Never drank tea with me on my porch. That we never climbed a mountain together after Semester. Why? Why do I miss you so much? After all these years, why is the pain still there, strong and sharp?


I think of songs I might have sung to you,
the love I wanted you to hear.
Every time the blazing sun goes down,
another promise disappears.

I never knew the dusk could break my heart,
so much longing folding in,
I'd give years away to have you here,
to know I can't lose you again.


Maybe the answer lies in the longing. . . We were friends, good friends, for years. Then it all began to crumble. Your letters grew shorter and fewer. Sure, things change, life gets busy wherever you are—I understand. But it wasn't that. That has happened to me before. This was different. You changed. And when I saw you for the final time, you left me when I wasn't the person you wanted me to be. I wasn't someone else, I was me. . .and that wasn't enough. I wasn't enough. I can't pretend that I didn't cry, that it didn't hurt to have you reject me and abandon me. But for years I'm not sure that even I understood why it hurt so much.

Some part of me loved you in a way that I didn't expect. Yes, I loved you at first as that quirky kid from Rhode Island, and then as my dear friend. But is it possible that the severing of our friendship hurt and continues to hurt because some other love mixed itself into my heart? We often fall in love with someone wholly unobtainable, even spurning those within our reach. Is that it? But no, I think it was and is more than that, but I learned it too late and I regret it bitterly.

So much longing folds in, I'd give years away to have you here, to know I can't lose you again. To give up years to be with someone you love sounds worth it. But how many other people that we love would we miss time with if we could barter that way? I can't go back and reach out more than I already did once upon a time. I can't undo mental illness. I can't undo my life choices, and I certainly can't undo yours. I can't have another shot at being friends, at being anything more than that. And I wish to God that I could. But we can't live in the past, and we can't undo it. Even though I know that's true, it doesn't stop the pain, even as I try to live here and now, knowing what I know. We can't buy more time with our lost loved ones, but we can invest in those we love now.


Help me remember the San [Juans], the foothills burning in the light.
Let my heart rise up to where you are, I long to be with you tonight.


Of course I do. I long to be with you tonight in the Kingdom. I long for all of us to be free from death and its severing, searing pain. I am both angry and envious that you are there without me. That you don't have to watch person after person you love die. But I am not angry at you, and that makes a great deal of difference. 

I miss who you were. I miss who I was. Sometimes I wish I could somehow go back to who I was when we first met, yet also know all that I know now. I know myself better now, and though I have a deeper experiential knowing of God and Life, I miss the person I was. . .The girl who loved poetry and saw light and all those little birds. The person who had time upon time to write, to walk, to listen. I miss loving every little thing about life, delighting in every Beauty, no matter how small or grand. And somehow, I feel like that part of me began to die when I lost your friendship. It was like a light went out; like all of the connections my heart and mind could make between Beauty and reality got scattered and broken.

Sometimes, when I whisper into the blue-grey of the evening, "I miss you, friend" I am also missing me. Do I think that if I could find you I could find myself? No. But I think that if I could find you, you might awaken something asleep in me, maybe even resurrect something long dead. You had a gift, my friend. And you left some of that gift infused in this world and inside of my soul—but so much of it went with you when you left. Does the world know what it's missing? How could we know what we don't have? And yet. . .I often long for what I never had. I often grieve what never was. I know that you are gone. . .Even the mountains seem to know that. In this bright hour I speak your name into the wind, and remember that the shining world outlasts us all.





Angel Fire by Fernando Ortega and Elaine Rubenstein

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Messy Christmas

The branches have traded
Their leaves for white sleeves
All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
Christmas lights tangle in knots annually

While many people are wrapping up their Christmas lights rather than untangling them from last year, some more traditional churches are just entering into the celebration of the Christmas season. For them, Christmas begins on the evening of December twenty-fourth (since the Creation, days begin the evening before—think of Genesis 1:5: "...and there was evening and there was morning, the first day" etc.), going through to Epiphany on the sixth of January. 

This year, snow fell like shimmering garments on tree arms a week before Christmas. Yet for many of us, by the time the day itself rolled around, the sun had melted the tree robes and we were down to shirt-sleeves and thin sweaters. I love snow, but who decided that it is “necessary” at Christmas? 


Our families huddle closely
Betting warmth against the cold,
Our bruises seem to surface
Like mud beneath the snow

Some kinds of "snow" feel necessary... We want the blanket of "nice feelings" at Christmas to mask the cracks in our families of origin or in our marriages, in our loneliness and in our broken spots. But holidays have a way of hitting our bruised places. An argument in the car on the way to a Christmas gathering reminds us of the scores of fights we've had all year. The question, "So, are you seeing anyone?" (and you know they want to add "yet" at the end of that query) rankles when you're tired of being alone, or you've recently broken up with someone, or you feel somehow lesser because you in fact don't have someone. Sometimes the bruise is cruel and bone-deep: someone is missing in the pew at midnight mass with you; there is only the memory or shadow of someone you dearly love hovering at every crowded table, making it feel incomplete. 

It is a muddy, messy time, this Christmas. Messy Christmas. That is the phrase my phone auto-corrects to instead of "merry" Christmas. I laughed the first time happened. It struck my cynical side as humorous and morosely accurate. The mud of the Fall still lurks beneath the snow of the now-but-not-perfected redemption. But clean slates are coming. . .


So we sing carols softly
As sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We'll welcome December with tireless hope

Hope. Christmas is replete with Hope. God joining to flesh in a miraculous marriage. The Redeemer was born. Happy, sentimental sigh. 

But the crushing reality is that the Redeemer wasn't born as an adult. Things didn't change when He came. Yes, there was the flash of Heaven, opened to the shepherds. There was a great sign in the heavens, leading the wise men. Then, just like the previous four hundred years, there was a lull. Silence. Hope was born...but He wouldn't be revealed for another thirty years. 

I wonder if the shepherds were like fourteen-year-old me: not subtle, hanging around wherever I could—whenever I could—to be around the guy I was crushing on. Or did they cease hoping? Certainly, unflagging hope is hard to cultivate, especially when your hope is placed in the wrong thing, the wrong outcome, or the wrong person. Those shepherds waited for thirty years. Did they continue to hope? Did they connect that awe-filled night years ago with the peripatetic rabbi stirring up the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Jewish people, and the Romans?


Hope can be hard to cling to in the darkness, but that is precisely where we need it the most. Where we need Him the most. Thirty years before the Rabbi began calling fishermen, the ancient, long-awaited seed of promise was sown, becoming a tender shoot in Egyptian and Galilean soil.

"...For you [John] will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76b-79)

Hope. It comes in through those very cracks we long to cover. He enters into our broken places. He is gentle with our bruises.

Let our bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
And may the melody [of Hope] disarm us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

_______

The table is set
And all glasses are full
The pieces go missing
May we still feel whole
We'll build new traditions in place of the old
Cause life without revision will silence our souls


Last year, table after table was set, glass after glass filled. But the gaping hole of grief gnawed at me like an insatiable, unwelcome guest. Every table felt incomplete. There was a strange distance between me and everyone I was around. Like I was in a glass bubble and could see them, but I could touch them, couldn't really hear them. Those layers show up in many ways at various times, but all last Christmas I felt it. I couldn't enter fully into anything, because I wasn't whole. I am still not whole. I will always carry in me a bleeding wound. And it will only grow as the number of empty chairs rivals the number of full ones. And one day, the perpetually bleeding bite from grief, from death will kill me. Then I can fully enter in to the Kingdom come, to the City of God and the Feast of the Lamb. Strange how a fatal wound precedes life. 

The missing pieces haven't gaped so glaringly this year, but the numbness is still floating around. My heart, mind, and body are all topsy-turvy this season. The missing pieces can never be filled—but sometimes there is a new friend waiting in a vacant church pew; there is an old friend who remembers the ache with you, and even carries it with you for a bit. 

So, let the bells keep on ringing, making angels in the snow. And may the melody surround us, when the cracks begin to show this messy Christmas.


"Snow" by Sleeping at Last (Ryan O'Neal)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

November

Dear Aaron,

It is Thanksgiving today. My family is gathered around their table, spilling over from its limited space. Your family and our friends are gathered around the table in your house. Your sister and her family are gathered at a southern table. I am at my cabin this Thanksgiving, watching snow drip from the eaves, listening to the crows cry out in the cold. And you? You are banqueting with the King of kings. Where you are, every moment is Thanksgiving. Would that we all lived in that state!

Yet...we don't. So when the crows cry, I want to cry with them. When a Switchfoot song plays unexpectedly in a film, all I can think about is you. It doesn't hurt me, exactly, I love thinking about you—but the separation, before your death and even more by your death—that hurts like hell. Oddly, it isn't Hell that separates us now but Heaven. How can this be?

Oh friend, I miss you. . .




Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Invisible Friend

Raw tears
run to clenched jaws
and angry fears...

'This is your own fault,
your foolish choice'
whispers that
nagging voice

'You chose to care,
chose to listen,
now you'll tear.'

Tear into pieces
by unreasonable
expectation,
unseasonable...

Why does it never 
align? My desires
left severed

Just a friend again,
just someone to spill
your thoughts on—
invisible still

You know, I'm so
dissatisfied in the role
of come and go

Tired of being unloved
and unseen,
yet feeling small
and mean

Wishing gladness
to any friend
is not sadness

Or it shouldn't be.
Who have I become?
To be ungenerous
to anyone?

Dry eyes,
turned down, ashamed
of my lies

I've lied to myself,
that I am okay
when I'm not,
not today

And not any other,
without beholding
my Lover

Who may not appear
by my side,
but He will be
my faithful Guide

Truth will not
staunch the blood,
it spills hot

Healing could arrive
in this life,
but I may have to bide
until the Kingdom

I choose to love,
choose to care,
with Help from above

If that makes me
a lonely fool,
choosing to rejoice
rather than being cruel

Then let it be,
my only prayer:
Blesséd, blesséd, blesséd be He.






Saturday, October 19, 2019

Genesis Two

Because he fell short
God caused him to fall asleep
—a death—to rise
to new life: two life.

From enticing sleep, deep
God took a wife
from the Dustling's side,
a beam from the Holy Space
filled with brooding Spirit;
He joined the beam
and breath into body,
built before the face
of the one (now two)
where he stood entranced.

They stood face-to-face,
she opposite to him—
the first step in the dance,
the resounding hoofbeat
of the self.
The essence
now substance,
soft body
laced over bone
in concert—
uncovered...
...whole.

For the Creator took fullness
and split it in two,
making wholeness
until all comes together anew.