Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection life


My husband suggested we watch The Passion of the Christ last night, and I haven't seen it since I watched it in the theater in 2004 and snotted and heaved my way through most of two hours in a room full of strangers, and haven't drummed up the desire to go through that again.  But I said yes. 

Netflix categorized the movie in three words: "Violent, dark, controversial."  And I laughed on the inside, in a humorless way, at the accuracy of their description.  Isn't that the story of the last hours of Jesus' life and death?  To portray it any other way, all cleaned up and PG and kid-friendly, to make it palatable and easy to watch with a big bowl of popcorn, that's not the story at all.  

I watched the character of Jesus pulverized on screen, skin shredded with nearly unrecognizable face, hair dripping blood and sweat, body broken and stumbling and weak and yet more strong than anyone I've ever seen.  My heart swelled with love the way it swells with blood as I sat in all my brokenness and watched him take it all upon his body, rivers of crimson flowing down a tree. His eyes, cloudy red, nearly swollen shut, pierced my soul and I had to tear my gaze away. 

The movie finished and we sat in the dark living room and talked in a hush and went to bed with hearts heavy.  We'd just watched him die and I wondered how it felt for them, his mother and closest friends, to go to bed that night, not knowing he would rise.  

And friends, I've never been so relieved to wake up on Easter morning.  We woke up washed in sun and my first thought was, "He is risen!" and my heart, it stirred in its tomb.  

At church, all through the liturgy and worship and preaching, I sat a woman in love with a God I've never seen and still I've known him in all my senses for a very long time.  And the words of our preacher sounded like Jesus calling to his friend, Lazarus, "Come forth!"  Except he talked of living the resurrection life, every day.

The tears trickled out from the grave.

But how?  How do I live the resurrection when my insides seem to be dying a slow death?  

I don't know that I heard any other answer but the whisper to my soul: You can, because I rose.  

I went forward and tore a piece of bread and took a cup of wine and sat down in my pew, and I savored resurrection life sliding down my throat into my body with salty tears, nourishing every part, this scandalous feast of the broken, risen one I love.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Broken

The entrance to a burial cave in southern Jerusalem, which a 2007 documentary by James Cameron claimed was the lost tomb of Christ.
Broken.  I see this word - this prompt for a Friday, and not just any Friday, but Good Friday - and I purse my lips.  I need a break from brokenness and I feel it down to the bone: I'm dragging my heart through this Holy Week, barely looking up.  It's Saturday, the eve of Easter.  My favorite season has almost passed by and I fear I've missed it.  Fear I'm not ready for Sunday, not ready to stand up and rejoice because I haven't fully immersed myself in the holy preparation that builds anticipation. 

I can't seem to move past Friday.

My heart has been like a tomb for too long, I say here in this stillness, and I lay my head down and weep into the desk.  

For in this brokenness, I know I believe in death.  But do I still believe in resurrection?

In this tomb of my heart, the words of a song hang in the air full of stench, cry out to the Savior's broken body wrapped in linen cloth there and bathed in spices: 

"I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life
And all that's dead inside can be reborn."

And I sit, and I weep, and I wait for hope of resurrection. 

And I hear my Savior calling from the cross, from the grave, inside this tomb of heart, as I read the words of another:

“For you. For all your regrets and for all your impossibles, for all that will never be and for all that once was, for all that you can’t make right and for all that you got wrong, for your Judas failures and your Peter denials and your Lazarus griefs, I offer to take the nails, the sharp edge of everything, and offer you myself because I want you, to take you, you in your wild grief, you in your anger and your disappointment and your wounds and your not-yet-there, you, just as you are, not some improved version of you, but you – I came for you, to hold you, to carry you, to save you.”

His body, it lays still now, but I know on the third day, he rises.  He rises from brokenness I will never have to know in my own body or heart and floods the tomb with life, opens his arms wide and looks me in the eyes, calling "You."  If he can rise from all that, surely, he can raise this dead in me back to life.  This dead in you.  This dead in us. 

Oh.  Savior, come.  Come with your song that rises from ashes of broken.  Come. 

Linking up with Lisa Jo and the Five-Minute Friday community - on Saturday, as has become my new normal lately. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Remember

I walk to the park, a slow gait, hands cupped around my bowl of frozen yogurt on this chilly evening.  I'm in the mood to savor.  The beams of the fence leading into the park look whittled by beaver teeth and  I walk across wet bark between the fence posts, the door opened wide to this marshland mansion.  For the first time this day, quiet as I've been, my soul is hushed within me.  I'm not afraid of this silence; I lean into it.

I crouch low to admire the emerald sheen of a duck and the royal purple swath on the wings of another.  I see a cloud of crows above, off in the distance, a black banner waved across the sky.  I stop to stroke the end of a bare branch, its soft white tuft tucked into a cocoon, how its held here on this spindly wood and nurtured to bloom.  And the green caterpillar-esque blossoms shooting high from another set of barren trees.  These trees whose limbs bounce in the breeze and beneath the weight of robins' feet, their rusty orange chests puffed out, calling in lone song across the land.  

I enter a sanctuary of trees with bark peels curled across the ground, where birds traverse lightly through grasses, little hovercrafts in search of dinner.  I hear knocking on wood up high and strain my eyes until I focus in on a sleek black body with ruby red head, peck-peck-pecking away.  I lay my hand on a tree and gently trace the scars etched in its skin.  And I stand enchanted, filled with the sounds of whirls and trills and wooden clacking, of wind tickling grasses and squirrel claws clicking up trunks.  I catch a black blur of movement, tiny hummingbird hovering at the edges of a bush, and my breath catches.
I pass by an old log cabin, owned by the park, and can't resist the invitation to sit on the porch and swing on the bench.  My heels rock, back and forth, rocking my soul to rest after a weary day.

It's here, outside, where I look up at the sky that has no edges, stretching further than my eyes can see, that I remember.  That I am held.  That I will be ok, one day, even if I cannot see when.  It's here that I remember, if God cannot redeem all this inside and around, I may as well stop writing here about beautiful rubbish.  

Linking up with Lisa-Jo and the community of Five-Minute Friday writers.  The theme this week: Remember.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Doors and depression and a splattering of hope


Words are lost inside me, when he stands inches away and wants to know why I'm sad, and I don't know if I can explain it again.  In this moment, with this man I married, we might as well be strangers.  In this moment, I'm stranger to myself.  I know this depression is not who I am, but here it is, eating my words from the inside out.  

My legs carry me out of the apartment, into the hallway, through the dark corridor leading outside, before the tears give me away completely.  The walls seem thin as two sheets of paper, flapping in the wind that's kicking up outside.  I lean against one of these plywood walls and stand there in the shreds of daylight that remain, staring straight ahead at the black metal door.  

The door I entered in, it opens with a creak, and my heart rate speeds up, but no one is there.  At the end of the corridor, the metal door swings open, and the wind passes through, closing it with a thud.  The whole corridor, on both sides, is lined with doors.  Blank white doors with shiny brass handles.  And I feel the walls themselves closing in, the way my life closed in this past year, with all it's doors flapping open in the wind, slammed and sealed.  These doors, they taunt me in the quiet, and I whisper out a name.


It's as if hope rises with the wind and falls with the door closing, wishing the wind would carry him in and down this corridor, to wrap me in his arms.  And I know he's here, somewhere, but tonight he slips through my fingers.

I think back to my visit at the doctor today, how I recoiled inside at the number on the scale.  Why I bit back tears, later at home, knowing it's only a number.  But it didn't feel that way.  It felt like another door no longer open, as it was in the days when my body was healed and I ran and played without restraint, lined up in that darkening hallway, the life I wanted back concealed on the other side. 

And now, I stand in this corridor, this bridge between the place I've called home this past year and the windy outdoors, and I can't move, only stare at that metal door.  One year ago, I moved into this place with joy and anticipation and dreams wide open, awaiting a wedding and a marriage one month later.  And then, just days before the wedding, I tore my achilles and we tumbled into marriage and my heart has been tearing in pieces ever since, until I don't know how many more ways I can tear.

One year later, I stand what seems a skeleton of me.
I don't say the words in this dark corridor, but they hang in the air, and so I confess them here so they come to the light: Friends, in my darkest moments, I doubt I'll ever recover from all the tearing this year.  In my darkest moments, I want to seal my mouth shut and sit in silence, let my words collect dust behind these doors.  And then, the dark gives way to cracks of light and hope trickles in, slow and gentle.  And I can't see or feel him, but I know he's like the wind.

The tears dry and I step out of the corridor, back into the lit hallway, back into our apartment.  I step into the kitchen and pull spinach and romaine, carrots and celery and onion from the fridge.  And I feed myself a salad.  I mourn this frail body, and still I love it with a tenderness I did not possess in my younger years, when in fear I starved it of food and vulnerability and grace.  

I'm aware, sitting here as I hungrily consume, that this heart beating behind the skeleton ribs of me, these lungs breathing, this body with its extra pounds and limitations, house the essence of me - and still can't contain it all.  One day, I hope, I will be a door bursting open at the seams.  Until then, I stand in the corridor and whisper the name and wait for him to come and heal and show me how to run again.   

Maybe then, I'll look in the mirror and see more than severed pieces.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

My little disclaimer: Friends, this writing reflects my process, and it is up and down movement.  I am trying to be brave and not edit my words - the things we don't wish to say - down to something tamer and safer to express.  I am not always here, in this space I was in when I wrote this.  My hope is, if you ever find yourself in this place as I am, you can know you're not alone.  We may feel alone, but it is simply not true.  Let these frail words of mine testify of that.  This I do know: Doors may appear sealed shut, but they were designed to be opened.  Every broken door can be mended; new doors may be discovered; old doors can be painted.  And my soul says in the darkened place, "Glory to God."  He is here.   

Linking up with Emily.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When trees speak

The trees on the road leading home, they stand single file in a line that winds for a half mile, with naked spindly arms raised high.  I pass by them and I'm all astir with longing and recognition.  It's still winter, and they are stripped bare, unashamed, with arms outstretched and waiting to be clothed with soft buds of spring.  

I see myself in their barrenness.  I only long to see myself in their unabashed anticipation.  Like children, they seem to know they will be clothed in beauty, cared for by the hands of a loving Father, and they wait, with arms stretched high, reaching out fingers to grasp the Divine.

I walk through the forest, down, down and further down the ravine.  Past garments of moss on ancient, weathered trunks and vines woven as strands not easily broken, up and out of sight in the treetops.  I walk on hallowed ground and God lives here, too, among the woodpeckers and robins, the trees and stumps and trickling streams.  The further down I travel, the smaller I become, as I look up and up the steep hillside of towering forest that testifies of life that goes on in old and new.  Comfort finds me here, in smallness, tucked away in something larger and older than myself.  If only these towering woods could speak, the stories I would hear at the trunks of their feet, laid down in the beds of moss.  

And my soul knows her Shepherd in these woods, made to rest in green, led over a bridge of quiet waters, a breath of restoration in the valley of the shadow. 

Linking up with Heather over here at Just Write.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The stuff of Beethoven: Composing a story


I read a quote this week on a *blog, comparing the artistic methods of two brilliant composers, Mozart and Beethoven.  Beethoven, it read, wore his emotions, so to speak, in his music.  When he was angry, the music betrayed this.  Mozart, on the other hand, though enduring a life full of pain, escaped into music and created beauty that transcended his circumstances.  In other words, no one could have known, judging by his music, that he was in pain.  

I've got to be honest, this quote touched upon a nerve.  More so, the implication.  It's highly likely I'm being overly sensitive, maybe even defensive, because it's not that I don't love and admire art (and lives) that rise above suffering in expression of beauty.  On the contrary, I find this inspiring.  It's that I know I'm more like a Beethoven.  I escape into my writing, not to escape pain, but to work through it and embrace the messiness of the unfolding story.  Sensitive or not, the quote made me feel that my way of artistic expression is less than beautiful or transcendent.  

I don't know why I care.

Oh, but I do.  I care, because I write raw.  When my life is full of grief, I either work it out in my writing or remain silent.  I hunger as a writer of redemptive stories to thread hope in the raw, to piece together a trail of truth and beauty in the unfinished middle of messiness.  And I don't know how well I live up to that.  Some days, the writing is too dark to see the thread.  Other days, the thread glows golden.  I am still figuring this out, and that, I fear, is the dilemma as a writer: I always risk being a little off.  

And I care, because having walked through the grief of losing one of the closest people in my life, I heard this message all too often, in subtle ways.  The ways our culture praises people who are "strong" in tragedy and loss, who don't seem to skip a beat in life because they keep pressing on, scarcely slowing down to let the grief sink in.  The ways our churches can gloss over pain with sermons and smiles and hands lifted high in worship, elevating the stories of those who "overcome" and testify the happy ending without ever sharing the dark shadow of suffering.  The message shot through to my heart then and it continues to touch a nerve now: Don't let people know what's really going on inside.  

The problem is, I lived like that for twenty-seven years and I'm still picking up the pieces of the dam that finally exploded when I couldn't hold it in any longer.  Folks, we're not dams. That's sure as hell not the kind of writer I want to be.  But that doesn't make me any less appreciative of Mozart.

It's not really about one or the other, though, right?  Transcending or channeling pain.  Each is a different stroke of the brush, and in a world this large, we have room for both.  We need both Mozarts and Beethovens, in all manners of art, in all manners of living out these stories that we inhabit.  And perhaps we will even be both, in different seasons of life. 

There's a balance here, somewhere, I know.  Except I doubt it plays out on a scale capable of ever holding a perfect balance.  Why would I even want to?  I can't recall a single word from Christ that implies, "Blessed are the balanced..."  I tilt to the side, one or the other, forward or back, and need the gentle adjustments of the Spirit.  It is accountability, and it is grace; for surely, I do not walk the upright path always in my writing.  I lean.

And I lean into this itching underneath my skin, the real issue at hand: Am I ok?  Is this level of raw really ok, or even helpful, to any other soul on this journey through the messy middle?  Or is it, as another **writer described recently, a case of "oozing unhealed rawness."  Because, Lord knows, these wounds do ooze from time to time, here in this space where I strip naked my soul.  But sometimes, the healing comes in the act of creation that writing is.  This choice of cleaning out the wound before writing or writing the still-being-healed places so that others may know the full picture as it's unfolding, and not just the story looking back from a safe distance - I'm miles from figuring it out.  

So, in this place, if you hear in my voice the rise and fall of grief and joy, hope and despair, doubt and faith, smooth and jagged edge, and it speaks to your soul, you're in good company.  If all is carried on the notes of grace, turns out there can be beauty here, too.

. . . . . . . . . . . . 

* My intent is not to argue this quote, but use it as a way of exploring another way of understanding art.  I appreciate the point the author of this post made through the example in the quote.
** This is not to assume this writer intended her words as I took them; only, that they caused me to reflect on the level of rawness present in my writing and what is actually beneficial. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Rest

I walk with him yesterday, fingers turning red in the evening air, and I talk the entire time, it seems.  Of all the things that press and claw and cling, and how I want to throw them off and rest.  My stride slows as I realize this, my feet trudging beneath the weight of it all.  

"Jesus, I need to rest awhile.  I'm exhausted, weary of grief..and it's made me wary of you."

I let the words roll of my chest, because he already knows.

"I know you said life won't be easy, but I also read we wouldn't be crushed.  I want to believe that."

Those words dripping with promise, a drink in the wilderness, emerge from my heart: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

I can't separate those words of promise from something else he said about seeking him and his ways above everything else, and all the things that we tend to worry about - our clothes and food and where we'll live - he'll take care of them.  Because he takes care to clothe the flowers in beauty with his eye on the sparrow, and aren't we of immeasurable more value than those?  All these things; all the rest.  That's what he promises to watch over.

And I think of the red breasted robins I've been admiring on the front lawn as we drive up the hill to home, and I thank him for them. 

It's not easy, to come to him and find rest, if we're carrying around the weight of the rest.  

Maybe, most of the time, rest depends on how much we are willing to let go of all the rest, outcome uncertain, and walk with him in the cool of the evening.

Linking up at Lisa Jo's place for another Five-Minute Friday post, this week on "rest." 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My first marriage

I wrote this memory not that long ago, thinking I'd 'save' it, for a book or something.  But that's just silly.  It needs to be shared, maybe just to remind myself not to take myself too seriously.  Because, if you've been here for awhile, you've noticed.  It gets pretty heavy and raw around here; that's the way I roll as a writer, at least in this season.  Maybe when I'm in my sixties, most of my writing will be humor.  Funnier things have happened.  For now, I thought I'd take a quick breather and tell a short story that I don't suppose I'll ever live down. 

. . . . . . . . . . . 

I married my best friend in the first grade.  Joey had blonde hair that naturally spiked in the back of his head, reminding me of Dennis the Menace.  With a freckled face, dimples and green eyes, small and squirrely and athletic, I was in love so much as my seven year old brain could comprehend.  My Papa was a minister, so we figured, why wait until we’re old – as in, twelve or so – let’s get married now.  My parents readily agreed, probably relieved that our sleepovers would now be free of scandal in the church, and my older sis reluctantly accepted the role of bridesmaid.

I don’t recall, sadly, what I wore at my first wedding, and had I known it would be another twenty-four years until I’d walk the aisle again, I might have milked it more.  I do remember my sis sporting a pair of Mom’s flowered knee high stockings (this was, after all, the eighties) and a pair of pumps.  She had a devilish gleam in her eyes, the kind that older siblings cannot contain when pulling stunts on unsuspecting, na├»ve younger siblings.  In other words, she was bursting at the seams with satisfaction.  Joey wore his standard Nikes, jeans and a short sleeve shirt buttoned up with a tie, like a Boy Scout. 
We gathered inside the entryway of our house, in front of the double doors, all four feet of us.  Papa had written customized vows, the only one of which I remember was Joey’s promise to do the dishes.  And we, wide-eyed and nervous giggles, held hands and cast glares in the direction of my irreverent sister, promising many things to each other that would soon be forgotten in our tumbles outdoors and battles of Atari BattleTank.

Some time after this ceremony, during one of our sleepovers, Joey and I shared my queen-size water bed – purchased at a liquidation sale, one for me and sis and our parents – and he wanted to cuddle.  In the dark, I heard, “Amber, cuddle me, I’m cold.”  And I, with some irritation and disgust, promptly turned him down.  We argued and he threatened to call his mom to have her come pick him up.  Somehow, we managed to resolve our dispute and he stayed over without cuddling, and we remained best friends until the third grade, when boys and girls tend to drift apart like ice caps in the Arctic sea.   

But I never heard the end of my “marriage” or “Amber, cuddle me, I’m cold” from my family – my sister in particular – even as a newly (re)married woman. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When stories cry out

I bend over to grab honey packets from the cupboard and refill the canister, the condiment bar where customers "doctor" their drinks, and I catch a glimpse of his ankles.  He's stretched out in the sofa chair to my right, staring blankly ahead as he often does with those big brown eyes, his head a fuzzy white peach, his yellow nails long and curled under.  For the first time, I see his sockless ankles covered beneath navy pants, and they're red and swollen, stretched taut and dry as an elephant's legs.  I see them, and I can't look away.  And my heart breaks a little, thinking, always thinking - what if this were my dad?  What flesh and blood in this world knows this man, calls him one of their own?  Yet here he sits, day after day, a drift in his scent of urine and body odor. 

These thoughts trail me, pressing on my skin from just below the surface, as I visit my friends in the nursing home.  On the second floor, the air is hot and pools in my throat, and I'm careful not to breathe too deep, for fear my sensitive stomach of late would lose its cool.  I find my friend in the dark of her room, a curtain separating her from her roommate, the news on as usual.  She lies in here all day, every day, in too much pain, she says, to be moved to a chair and wheeled to activities.  We chat of the latest news - the Pope, a plane crash, what is, a drug that's been recalled, the return of Dancing with the Stars.  Her eyes light up a little, as they haven't in several weeks, and I gently coax out stories as she's willing to tell them in the bits and pieces of memory tucked away.  

Next to us, her neighbor steps on every one of her last nerves, calling out for room service and coffee and her daughter who visited earlier but left for home.  In the space between my friend's words, I catch the mumblings of her roommate: "I would like to die and just get it over with."  A bony hand smooths the wrinkle in her blanket, her face concealed behind the curtain, and lays to rest.  

In another room, I walk in to my two friends resting with eyes closed in their hospital beds.  I call their names, and only one turns her head to look at me, "Oh, hello.  Come in."  The other stares ahead, though I call her name again.  "Has she been like this all day?" I turn to her roommate.  "All week, actually," she replies.  "She won't even eat."  I walk over to her bed, lean close and touch her shoulder and she looks, ever so briefly.  In her red watery eyes I see a woman enclosed behind glass, pounding with fists, her mouth open in soundless cries.  Where have you gone, I ask with my eyes and the sound of my voice, but I'm fishing today and she's not biting. 

I usually paint her nails, but today, she won't uncurl her fingers, so finally, I let them drop gently to the bed.  And I pull up a seat next to my other friend, the one with whom conversation flows easily and freely and I could do word puzzles with her for hours, and she shares quotes from the daily "paper" circulated by the activity director in the home.  We discuss an article on a slum in Kenya from the Seattle Times, lying on her bed, and swap stories of cats we once owned.  Somehow, we land on the topic of birds and I gush of my admiration of blue herons and my search for a snowy owl in Ballard, and as the words spill out, I feel a twinge of guilt.  This woman never sees outdoors and, though living here in Mercer Island for several years, has no picture in her mind of her surroundings.  I speak of a world she now beholds in books and papers and tv programs.  This place is her world, and she can't be any older than my mom.

When did I reach the age where I see my parents in the stories around me?  My Papa, long gone now, a ghost in the faces of homeless men; my Mom, a glimmer in the eyes of women living in their beds.  These stories, they belong to people who have been sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, perhaps even husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.  Their voices cry out to me, silent, and I bear witness: I am more than this.  

Linking up with Heather and Emily.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Home: where I work out the hard things

A dear friend wrote on her blog this week words that I have sometimes tried to say, but she managed to say them so eloquently - "This blog is a place I work things out, and for those of you who’ve read for a while, you know that takes many shapes. Often it can be a celebration of what is good and right in my corner of the world because I need to remember the glimmers of beauty while I work out the hard things, and I’m a person who needs to work out the hard things." 

And another eloquent friend wrote, "Grief, so often, is what hands us the pen." 

This is me, taking the pen and working out the hard things.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

We're looking for a new home.  And I find myself rebelling at another forced goodbye, that same feeling as a child when you have no say in the matter and you'd rather wrap your legs tight around the chair as you're being gently yanked away.  It's been a while since I wasn't ready to leave a place, and I've lived in eight places in the last twelve years.  I know, it's *only* a place and home is where the people you love are; but when you've moved from place to place to place all your life, you don't take for granted when place begins to take root and burrow into your heart.  

Our apartment here, on Mercer Island, has been a refuge.  One sweet spot of calm in the throes of a stormy season.  Our first home together.  The view from our front windows is of the Cascade mountains and Lake Washington, with a colorful totem pole and white gazebo left of center.  Each day when I cross the bridge from Seattle to the island, I inhale peace and exhale the hectic energy of the city I've left just a few miles behind.  

There really is nothing here in comparison to the colorful dining and shopping and arts options the city offers.  And, much to my surprise, I love it more for that reason.  I've grown to appreciate that the only place to buy groceries near us is the neighborhood QFC little more than a mile from us, where I recognize the checkers and courtesy clerks.  I love Anna from Vietnam, who cuts my hair at Great Clips across from the grocery store, and the ladies at the U.S. bank kitty corner from there, where the line moves at island pace.  I sometimes treat myself to a visit at Stopski's Deli, the only place on the island that serves Stumptown coffee and homemade baked goods, right next door to Island Books, which reminds me of how a bookstore should feel, even though I can't often afford to buy them new.  

I have many fond memories of Mercer Island Thrift Store, where I've hunted for children's books and jeans and board games and soccer cleats; where I ran into a kind stranger when I was in a cast and hobbling on crutches and she offered to be my friend.  I still have her business card, though I never did call her.

And then there are my only friends on the island, the women I visit each Tuesday at the nursing home.  No matter how tired I am when I arrive there, straight from work, I always leave with a full heart, even if it's aching at the pain I've brushed up against.   

Oh, be still my soul, then there's Luther Burbank park, just a half mile from us, where I gritted my teeth and walked in sweltering summer heat trying to learn to walk again when the boot came off, coming home with swollen leg.  And I swam - oh, how I swam - and the water rose up to kiss me, liquid therapy for my spirit.  This park, it's seen me through seasons.

I have our kitchen arranged just so, my favorite room in our small casita, the place where I feel most at home.  The place where I've cooked and baked and cleaned, wept and danced and prayed.  And for the first time in my life, I think I've become a "home body", because I'm content to putter around the house for hours now, without the restless itch to leave.

I've known all along, love at first sight, how hard it would be to leave this place.  I didn't know how hard it would be not having the choice to stay, not knowing how we will afford the move, how hard the struggle to trust that there is something "better" up ahead.  It's another trust test, piled atop a teetering heap of others, to let go of the place that feels most like home and go to where I don't know when I still feel in need of a physical refuge.  And how I wept at these sweet words my Mama sent me yesterday, reminding me of where my faith right now feels so small: God provides a place for the desolate to live.   

I don't want to speak it, but I choke it out around the lump in my throat, the words of a song that have been with me through darkest nights.  

When hope is lost, I'll call you Savior
When pain surrounds, I'll call you Healer
When silence falls, you'll be the song within my heart

I will praise you
I will praise you
When the tears fall, still I will sing to you 
I will praise you
Jesus, praise you
Through the suffering, still I will sing

Friday, March 8, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Home

I fly above or below the radar through so many days.

My husband and I drive to our weekly community group and the air is heavy between us, sadness filling the space with things I don't know how to carry all at once.  I look away, out the window, and my tears leak out of ducts that just won't shut when I want them to.  I long to be a bird and fly away, away from life.  But instead we pull up to the house, climb the steps, and I pause to breathe deep, walk through the front door with a smile.  Fake it til' you make it, that's how it is sometimes.  I don't have the energy to land, to be known, not tonight.  

And truth be told, there is no place to land, sometimes, in all this hovering and ducking and strain of wings in flight.  No space that opens wide the door to timid knocking, to step through and embrace the one with shoulders slumped on the front porch.  

And sometimes, it's a brief and beautiful landing.  

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It's the gentle tapping of a friend on the shoulder at church; the one who saw, across the room, that I was not myself.  The one who bridged the gap between us, opened the door and pulled me in with arms and soft prayers.

It's my husband, rising from his desk this week and pulling me to the bedroom to wrap me tight, whispering that this is more important than work, while I soak his chest and there is no air between us. 

It's the space in the shower when I can't hold it in any longer, and I'm alone, but the cold tile walls are the chest of God.  

It's the space where I uncover my soul in written word, and I am not ashamed to tell the story that is unraveling imperfection, the "gritty, messy stories of the still-lost." 

These are but shadows of home and I continue to hover and land, hover and land.  I carry home with me and it carries my wings in its draft, and I know, too, it waits for me ahead. 

. . . . . . . . . . . . 

[This post took much longer than five minutes to come out, but I still wanted to post it with FMF.  Some weeks are like that, and I just go with it.  And if you want to listen to some music that moves the soul while you read, be my guest.]

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Outgrowing our skin

Six summers ago, a young woman packed a bag and flew to Philadelphia, where she knew no one.  From the airport, she caught the metro to South Philly, surveying the east coast landscape from a track up above, the city older and richer in history than her west coast home.  At Kensington, her stomach housing what felt like a Mexican jumping bean, she walked the platform down the steps, past row houses heaped with pathways of garbage and corners stuffed with flies buzzing, around shards of glass, through the thick August air.  She passed brown-skinned children playing in the street, doors slamming and voices calling, until she stood in front of her destination: 3234 Potter St.  

The Simple Way house.

She'd written ahead of time, asking if she could come spend a week with their community, as part of a cultural immersion for a grad school course.  A guy had written back, brief and kind, providing an email address to communicate with him.  This was far from her comfort zone, asking complete strangers if she could impose upon them, as if testing the hospitality she'd read about in wonder in their book.  The community apparently discussed it and decided she could come, but when she showed up on their doorstep, it was clear they understood only for one night.  She pushed down the initial panic that rose, reminding herself this was, in fact, an adventure, and they would not turn her out to the streets.  They ended up graciously inviting her to stay for the week, in the room of one of the house mates.  

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This week, she felt so alive, as if accessing parts of her that until now had lie dormant, the beautiful ache of muscles she didn't know she had. She sat in a prayer room with candles and incense, simple words of truth marked in pen across the walls, icons of saints and pictures of heroes - Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi - drinking in foreign prayers of morning liturgy.  As far as she'd known, she was Pentecostal.  Now, she wondered if that were too small for her.  She could feel herself outgrowing her own skin.

Her and her new friend and 'roommate' hiked around the city on foot and bicycle.  She climbed in the community van with the six other housemates and went dumpster diving for groceries.  She met beautiful people on the street where they lived and beautiful people in communities like theirs all throughout the city and across the border in Camden, New Jersey where she experienced her first Mass in a neighborhood of drug dealing and prostitution. She sat in quiet attention, listening to conversations about politics and social issues between some of the most 'liberal' Christians she'd met, and she relished the discomfort, the way it rattled and shook her sense of 'right'.  She could feel God outgrowing the skin she'd put him in in her attempt to understand his ways.  And he was so much bigger than she thought.

When she left Philly and flew back to Seattle, she knew she couldn't go back to the way she was.  One week and she was not as she left herself.  She didn't know where she fit any more.

Five years later, she married a Catholic man.

And now, she holds in her hands a thin book of Common Prayer, a liturgy for ordinary radicals, written by the same guy who started the community in the row house, on that street in south Philly, where she spent the week that rattled her insides.

She basks tonight in wonder, the way she hungers for liturgy that she didn't grow up with, the story and community she didn't know she was part of.  And she kneels to pray with candles lit, the evening prayer with her husband, beginning,

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked will I return. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Linking up with Heather for another installment of Just Write.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A tale of two lists

As soon as I spoke the words aloud, spread them out on the screen for any to read - I will begin writing a book this year - they seemed to dry up.  No, more than that.  I have felt my words, my stories, buried alive in a hole carved deep in the ground, while clods of earth fall on my face and pile up around me.  

Life.  It falls in a fresh rain at times, and in other seasons, chunks of dirt and rock.  All is grace, this I do believe, but what to do when you feel swallowed by the earth, crushed by the weight that builds up faster than you can dig out from beneath it?  When this is life, I struggle not to lose sight of the story that is bigger than the one I'm living.  Were I to make a list of all the things that press in to crush, this alone would open up and swallow me whole.  I know such lists are death.

But thanks be to God, I am not crushed.  I am at times in pieces, yet being made whole.  This I do believe.

And it's all these "little" beliefs, that when added up, measure so much larger than life and all that lifts a shovel of dirt to throw down upon my soul.  And I press in to the words Mama spoke today over coffee, not meant for me in that moment but I seized them as my own.  Live out of belief, not emotion.  This, quite possibly, is the hardest thing for me to do.  

I don't love out of emotion, but out of belief that love is a commitment and a choice I make every day.

I don't forgive out of emotion, but out of belief that I, of all people, have received forgiveness too great to be withholding from any other soul.  

I don't put my faith in God out of emotion, but having been convinced of his character, I believe and therefore I trust.  

On paper, so many fears and heartaches stare me down with beady red eyes, and so I tear my gaze away from paper and set my heart, with all its emotions, in the hands of my God.  And I write a new list upon which I turn to feast my gaze.

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Lover of my soul.
Very Present Help in time of need.
Hiding Place.
Mighty Savior.
The One who sees me.
Grace Giver.
Emmanuel, God with us.
Friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Light of the morning.
My Joy and Song.
Sovereign King.
The One who makes a way, where there seems to be no way.

This last one, I whisper again and again, and the emotion has not shifted, but something is shifting in my spirit.  Truth washes over me.

With this list I breathe out, throwing off one dirt clod at a time.  I will not be buried alive, except by gifts of grace heaped upon grace.