Friday, August 29, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Reach

 "Faith is homesickness. 
Faith is a lump in the throat. 
Faith is less a position on than a movement toward
less a sure thing than a hunch. 
Faith is waiting. 
Faith is journeying 
through space and through time.

~ Frederich Buechner, Secrets in the dark

Faith is a mystery to me. 

The thing about mystery is that it exists, somehow, both out of our reach and right in our midst. Mystery lingers in the air we breathe, in the eyes of the stranger lost in thought on our bus ride to work, in the eyes of the ones we love and know the best, is buried, even, deep within our DNA.  It's printed across our newspapers, in the words of writers and poets, scientists and musicians, in the questions that keep us awake at night and the ones that eat at us throughout our days. 

Mystery is everywhere, even the least likely of places. Those places we seem to believe we've got figured out. 

Mystery is not a word I ever knew in churches I grew up in, only in the genre of books that I loved as a child and still turn to every now and then as an adult.  The words of the Bible were things to be memorized; theology, something to inform my life, to give me words to answer hard questions and obscure questions, to give me language so that everything would be as clear as clear could be. So I could turn and answer other people's deepest questions about life and death, meaning and purpose, heaven and hell, salvation and faith. 


God, himself, wasn't all that mysterious. He did this because of that. His stories had clear morals to extract from them, his parables could be dissected into neat three-point sermons. He was this, because this is who God is, period. And we don't question God. The divine being in whom all mysteries are said to be wrapped up within, this one was not all that mysterious precisely because we stripped him of his mysteries by calling him by all the names we knew, but this: Incomprehensible One.

We don't know. 

These words are becoming closer and dearer to my heart than I ever imagined. They free me to embrace mystery.

We do not know. But we walk by faith.

We walk by faith, not by sight, and this, of course, is mystery. But when faith becomes something we are absolutely certain of, even God himself, is it still faith, I wonder?

For years, I never let myself reach this far, wonder at this length. That my faith is not in answers, in theology, or even in beliefs. My faith is not, ultimately, in the Bible, but in the one who is the word of God made into flesh who dwelt among us and dwells still today, though we cannot often see him or feel him or be certain of the ways he speaks to us without words. Though many questions remain - many more than answers - and some dark days we do not know if we can continue believing the things we do, and yet we remain with him, because beyond something we can explain rationally, we know we have nowhere else to go but here. But him.

It's mystery that pulls at my heart at the end of the day, mystery that makes me feel alive. Mystery that draws me to where I am on this dusty walk of faith, makes me feel at home, but for a few moments, among liturgies and ancient prayers and the bread of heaven coming to feed us in the Eucharist. Among beautiful people who wouldn't dare step into these places of worship but are trying to find their way home. Even though these, themselves, are but faint glimmers of home, my soul tremors at their touch when I'm paying attention. 

I keep reaching for him in the mystery, him as the mystery, this one I love and this one I barely know, for he is both. And he is so much more. This beautiful, scandalous, fierce and tender, incomprehensible one. 

This one I'm moving toward.

 * * * * * 

Joining Kate and the Five-minute Friday community. The prompt today is "Reach." As is generally the case, I take the prompt and write however long I need to, instead of five minutes. While I love the challenge to free write for five minutes and would likely benefit from it, I find what I need most, at the end of the week, is to relax into my writing time and let it flow, however long that may take. So thank you, for being here and joining in this process with me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

When feathers fall

A feather in the grass, by the side of the road.

My eyes see it, and I bend down to bear it, fragile, in my hands. It is not tightly bound, like a gull's, but splayed delicate and wispy as the clouds. A heron's, I wager my best guess. In my hands, it feels like holding a tiny wisp of my heart.

It has a broken shaft, down the center. From there it bends and droops when I hold it up in the air. I pinch it gently in its broken center and carry it home.

This feather speaks. Oh, how it speaks. 

Of its inconsequentiality, on its own. Of its absolute necessity, en masse. For flight. For protection. For survival. For companionship.

* * * * *

We've been losing feathers off this marriage since we first took to the skies.

The shafts break and they fall fragile, one by one, to the earth. Each feather, bearing a name that cannot be named or need not be named in the space outside of the body from which they break. 

And I wonder, even when I fear to wonder, how many feathers we can lose before we are too bare to fly. We huddle together for warmth when the bare spots cannot keep out the chill, for this is what we know to do when we do not know how to stop them falling.

And I wonder, too, how feathers grow. How many might be regenerating on these bedraggled frames, pushing up beneath the bare spaces. Ones we cannot yet see. 

And this is faith.

* * * * * 

At home, I set the feather across the glossy print of us, the one when we were engaged, kissing beneath a cluster of chili peppers at the Market. The feather refracts light against the photo's backdrop, writing its wispy, broken-shafted hope across our faces.

We will rise.

* * * * *

Linking up with Kelli and the community of Unforced Rhythms, a place I am beginning to call home.

Friends, can I share with you? I write from a place of vulnerability in posts like these. Writing about marriage in this way - in the beautiful, painful mess of it all - is hard. But I do not write to process, for therapeutic purposes, or to reveal deeply private things. I write for transparency, for courage, for hope. I write, because writing helps me see what is often hidden from my immediate view. If you are married and you relate to this kind of story, I want you to know you're not alone. I don't have answers, this is for sure. But I do have hope in the One who can redeem the messiest of things, who can bring beauty from ashes. May he use these words, in some imperfect way, to shed light in the darkness. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Change

Brittle leaves dust the sidewalks, evidence of the toll of summer's heat. It still hangs in the air by a few fingers, slowing releasing its grip, while shortening rays of sun signal change. Change! Change! Change! The air is humming, buzzing, whispering lazy lullabies, as it always does this time of year. 

One ear is tuned to the song, the other, tuning out. I'm not sure I'm ready. I'm not sure I ever am.

This city is aflame in change.  Both an organic and structural demonstration of what it is to be human in a world ever in upheaval. Impermanence. The inevitability of a place ever remaining preserved just as we hope it to be - or ever living up to our deepest hopes for home. 

We call it progress. We call it chaos. We call it growth. We call it loss. This digging up of roads, leveling of old buildings, raising of tiny-boxed high rises on tiny plots of land that has long since been paved over, a mass of concrete graves. 

Everywhere in this city, construction. Roads closed. Detour signs. Lines of traffic, cars sputtering exhausted sighs with the ever-exhausted humans inside. Familiar landscape gradually disappears, neighborhoods evolve, people migrate inward and outward, and the whole city sags beneath the weight of lives. 

And we sag, too, treading hard to stay afloat in this sea of change.

Somehow, we know beneath it all, this is a picture of life, though not life as we somehow, beneath it all, know it was meant to be. 

We ache, we yearn, we move through detours and crowded highways and clogged city roads; we work and play, eat and sleep, connect and tune out in our transit from here to there; we grieve in whatever quiet space of solitude we can claim, in the car, in the dark bedroom staring up at the ceiling, in the shower or the alley between buildings, beneath the trees with their arms canopied over us like guardians, beside the lapping waters of a lake, the loneliness of a crowd. 

And when change is astir, these four seasons a year, we wonder at the mix of unspoken sorrow with anticipation of knowns and unknowns, how it moves through us like a wisp of fog curling through a pre-dawn sky. 

 * * * * *

Linking up with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community. The prompt today is "Change." 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The graffiti on the walls

"Too much blood in this city"

 There's too much blood in this city. 

I saw these words graffitied in Spanish on a wall in downtown Guatemala City six years ago. It's a gutteral cry we know, all too well, in all the forms and languages it assumes on all kinds of walls around the world, stopping us mid-walk, mid-sentence, mid-week, mid-life.

I've seen the posts on facebook this past week, the passionate calling for writer voices to chime in on what's happening in Ferguson. And I'll just lay it out right here, bare and honest and yes, even ashamed: I've had nothing to say. Nothing, that is, that's well-informed, authentically passionate, or worth adding my nasally voice to a riot crying out rightfully for justice. 

I've had nothing to say because, in all honesty, I haven't sat still long enough to let the reality of what's happened, what is still happening, of where our country - and me, in my white skin - are still at, all these supposedly enlightened decades past the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement.  I haven't sifted through all the overwhelming piles of information for the stories that are crying out for us to hear, for me to hear. 

I haven't listened, truly listened, and I'm not proud to admit this. In listening, I haven't reached a place, yet, of lamenting what is.  And until that happens, I don't want to write from any less of a place.

I need to know my place in this story.

I don't yet.

And there's something else. Something I'm quite nervous to say here or anywhere, for that matter, because I'm certain it will offend or perhaps be misunderstood. And I really don't go looking for that. But I'm going out on a limb, again, because that's where I've promised myself I'd be willing to go in my writing - and hopefully, in my life.

I can't promise I'll take up the cause of Ferguson, even with the reading and the listening and the lamenting. 

I can't promise my heart will drive me to go in there in person, in action, in my writing, where this grievous eye-opener of Michael Brown's murder and the unrest in Ferguson has already taken others. All I can say is that, having opened my heart to the stark inequalities that still exist in this country, to my own prejudices and racism - because, we all have them, don't we? - my heart will have changed. If it doesn't move me in some way to see the world different, to change my perceptions, to demand, in the ways I can, that things be different, I am not listening. 

But that doesn't mean I'll pick up my pen and write the way that my sister or brother will.

Because how do we choose which causes to take up in our writing, in our songs, in the daily living of our lives? On any given day, I can wonder why more people aren't writing on the air strikes in Iraq, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the ongoing ravages and bloodshed in Israel and Palestine, the increasing tensions in North and South Korea, the desperation of illegal immigrants crossing our borders and being sent back to poverty or death, or the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. I don't have to look farther than the face of the homeless wanderers that daily drift through my Starbucks or lay passed out on the streets of my city to be confronted with my privilege and questions of responsibility. I don't have to do more than walk outside and feel the changing climate and see the effects of pollution in the places I love to know, in some deep and horrifying way, that we have all but destroyed this beautiful place we've been given, that the damage is irreversible. 

No, it's not an excuse to do nothing, to say nothing, to not care. But can we step back and at least grant that we each sing our own impassioned songs, scrawling our diverse outcries for justice in this world on whichever walls and mirrors we can find? That we need all these voices. And more than we need all of us crying out at the same time, we need to know when it's our turn to kneel down and listen to these songs that are different than ours and open our hearts to their haunting cries. And then, to sing our own songs back into the crowd, to the face in our mirrors, to the sphere of earth that we call home, and hope, in time, they move mountains. 

* * * * *  

Joining the lovely community of Unforced Rhythms, where a group of us write and sing our life songs every Monday at Kelli's

Friday, August 15, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Tell

 "To cleave to the truth of our own lives, 
to live and look beneath our own stories, 
is to see glimmers at least of his life, 
of his life struggling to come alive in our lives, 
his story whispering like a song through 
the babble and drone of ours."

~ Frederich Buechner, Secrets in the dark

My sister is sitting on the floor and I'm on the ottoman facing her, folding laundry because my hands need to be busy while we're having this conversation. I'm nervous and I know I don't need to be.  We're learning to tell each other the truth, and today, several days into my visit, I'm saying yes to the gentle nudges inside to tell her. Tell her the story of where I am now.

I've been telling her for awhile now, and I find I need to tell her again, these details of my story of letting go and surrendering to change, of becoming and accepting me in this new skin. I tell her because, really, I need to tell myself. The more the words form in my writing, the more I find them forming on my lips, and I need to hear them spoken aloud for them to come full circle.

They are a poem, a struggle, a dance, a blind stagger, a bearing of wings, a daring to fall. 

She listens as the words tumble out, faster and faster, sometimes on repeat. She is gracious, my sister, reaching out in her own way with fingers to trace the lines on my face, the curve of what is precious and familiar, when she cannot see, exactly, who is sitting right before her. 

And it doesn't matter. She loves me. This, I feel more than any twinge of discomfort between us, any fear of differences, of unknowns, of judgment or not being seen or heard. 

All our lives, we've lived parallel stories with trails that join and crisscross in that intimate way that only a sibling's can. And all our lives, we've known how different we are. Our stories have always looked different. But maybe never felt it so much as they seem to now.

At the end of it all, through the flood of words, I wade through and hold up what I most want to save from being carried away: No matter how different Jesus looks in each of us, I want to know that you can still see him here, in my story, even if the language and expression have changed drastically.

I am vulnerable, sitting there in exposed desire, all but pleading with her to see me as I am and still love me. The question dangles, unspoken, What do you see in my story, when all these words like leaves are stripped away to the root in the ground?

She is brave, too, oh, so brave, and offers honesty back to me. And it helps me to see, how hard it is not only to tell a new kind of story, but to hear it from someone you love. She holds out grace to me, as she always does, and I see, with a pang in my heart, how painfully easy it is to be the bull in a china shop when you're trying to tell your story with grace, too - and often fail. 

We're figuring this out together, this telling of stories; this listening and holding a safe space for truth-telling, for growing and filling new skin, for fumbling around for words and sight. Our skin may look different, our stories told in different styles, and yet in the end, I wonder if the story being told isn't so very much the same.

At the end of time, I wonder if Jesus might gather up all these stories as chapters of the same book on the same gloriously inexhaustible subject. And as we hear them read and sung, over eternity perhaps, this Person of infinite dimension will emerge. This one whom we saw but flickers of in each other and didn't always know it was him we were seeing, as he shone beneath our skin - "struggling to come alive in our lives" - and yet here in his fullness, all we see is magnificent beauty. All we hear is this one story that goes on and on, an eternity of telling.

* * * * *

Linking these words today with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community, to the prompt of "Tell." But let me be clear, this post is the product of much more than five minutes. It hardly fits the specifications for FMF, and yet, I love the freedom, too, to take the prompt and follow it for as long as I need some (or most) weeks. 

This week, I remained purposefully vague, for my intent was not to focus on particular differences, as I've done more of in this season I'm in of accepting my "new skin," as much as to embrace the sense I have that all these differences are trivial in light of the bigger story being told. I'm still figuring out how to tell my little slice of story well, with the enormity of grace I've received. I'm learning how to speak of differences without creating divides. I hope, however your story is expressed and how it might vary from mine, this will be a safe space where you can be you and I can be me and we can learn from each other. 

Thank you, friends. I'm so grateful you are here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Fill


I used to thirst to fill and fill and fill, and maybe that was all, really, I sought after in my faith experience. The filling. Like young love, obsessed with passion and infatuation, so terrified of waking up one day in the absence of feeling. I filled up on church services, Bible studies, times of singing songs of praise with eyes closed and hands raised, prayer groups, books on faith, ministry positions, drinking more and more, as much as I could handle. 

I don't know that I ever learned much about emptying, at least until I came up completely dry, drinking faith to the dregs, until there was but one drop in the bottom of the well.

Where my faith all but ended, I found Jesus, and he looked different than I had always pictured. More rugged and wild and mysterious. So familiar and unnerving and comforting and strange. So quiet, so doggedly persistent. And there, in the dark at the bottom of the well I had dug for myself, he took over with the shovel and dug a little deeper into the ground. Until he struck water once more, and it flowed back in a trickle, fresh and crisp and unfiltered. And slowly, I filled.

These days and years, I'm still learning more about emptying, how it precedes the filling.

Emptying myself of pride, of self obsession and self righteousness, of being too much or too little but never just as I am.

Emptying of judgment and stereotypes, shame and condemnation.

Emptying of bitterness, envy and insecurity.

Emptying of anger and unforgiveness and distrust.

Emptying can'ts and should's and shouldn'ts.

Emptying of the soul-parching expectations of the world, of old definitions of success and worth and performance, of the quest for approval.

Emptying of religious language that is self-serving, enforcing fences instead of building bridges, padding comfort zones of sameness.

Emptying of old beliefs that minimize the beauty of our humanity in light of our lack of divinity.

Emptying of old ways of seeing that limit sight.

Emptying, yes, I'm always emptying, you see, for I can never be fully emptied of these things. But as I empty, I make space for Jesus to fill. As I empty, I see that as endless as this bottomless pit of myself may seem, the space he fills stretches deeper. He is the endless one and in him, and only him, is where I find my emptying and filling, my ending and my beginning.

Joining Five-minute Friday today, the first week of being hosted by Kate Motaung. The prompt today is "Fill." 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wisdom comes in the form a tortoise

She stretches her head, as far as her neck will reach, as if straining for the scent of the wind. This neck, an accordian bridge connecting head with shell and eyes with body, is fragile as paper and tough as leather. Four sturdy legs propel her forward much quicker than any stereotypes or fables told of her. She glides with her belly close to the earth, stopping here or there to chew on this or that. She is curiosity embodied on a mission that is unspoken mystery, glinting in the steady gaze of those two beaded eyes.

She heads for the edge, always the edge. Could it be that she, too, longs for what lies beyond those eyes?

We may be more alike than I ever thought.

* * * * *

She reaches the edge of grass, the curb sloping sharply down to concrete canyon. I watch her peer over and plunge headlong, front legs spread to the sides, willing to fall. She is braver than I. Her thick enamel shell, which is her home, breaks her fall and she is still, looking out upon her new terrain.

I stand back and watch her in the world and I know she has things to teach me if I slow to her pace and get down with my belly low to the earth.

* * * * *

At another time in life, I would have moved too fast to be still, to catch the beauty in her smallness or the wonder of how much in common we share. To marvel at the ancient feel of her scaled skin against my fingers.

I would never have thought to envy her portable home or recognized with intimate familiarity, how well I already know this shell. I would not have sensed in her my own longing for the terrifying freedom of life with a God who is not contained or small as I was taught, the loneliness of life out on the edge, the ever-present shadow of the Holy hovering nearer than the shell on my back. 

She was not my first choice for a pet. But then, how many times have I tasted the unexpected richness of not-first-choices in this life? Always, there, I uncover more treasure than I set out for.

I scoop her up and all four legs swim in the air and I think she wants to fly. And it looks like I will be the one to help her believe she can, even for a few moments, and maybe, too, she will teach me how to fall.

Linking with Unforced Rhythms

Friday, August 1, 2014

August: the month of endings, beginnings and new skin

"This is not the life I planned or the life I recommend to others. 
But it is the life that has turned out to be mine,
and the central revelation in it for me - that the call to serve God
is first and last the call to be fully human - 
seems important enough to witness to on paper."

~ Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

The call that made me jump out of my skin, that first set my skin on fire, was the call I groggily answered six August mornings ago. It sent me to pick my mom up from work, then to the emergency room at our local trauma hospital, where I saw my Papa in a coma on the operating table, and I was burning up from the inside out.  The skin I'd spent twenty-seven years in and was feeling fairly certain of my life direction in, this skin burned for eight long days in the hospital, until all I could do to avoid burning altogether was jump out of it.

I never felt more naked.

For six years now, August has been more to me than the most beautiful month of summer in Seattle. It's beautiful, still, and rubbed in the ash of a just-long-enough-ago fire. Life has long since sprung up from the blackened earth and it is glory and it carries an air of the familiar and it feels almost unrecognizable from the landscape it once was.

The month of August is a month of ghosts of the past, hazy dreams mingling with nightmares, of kneeling at the gravestones of loss long enough to remember with gratitude, of tending the flowers that have sprung up around the graves. It's a month of celebrating that life does, in fact, go on - in and around and through and in spite of great loss.

* * * * *

This year, however, I sense a shift as August begins. 

I have written and written and will continue to write, I'm sure, of the changing landscape of my heart, my faith, my life, in the aftermath of losing Papa - how it wasn't only the loss of him; his death was the catalyst for a trail of losses to follow. How, over time, even many losses can look different from a distance, from a different angle, until it's possible for some of them even to be gains. Endings giving way to beginnings.

I've written this, I've lived this, and I've wrestled with myself in the throes of this. I've come to terms with the reality that Papa is gone, even as he is also mysteriously near, that a space inside me will never cease to ache in his absence. And yet, I've never fully announced myself dead.

I've danced around it, said, "I've changed," and "My life looks so different," but when have I allowed myself to confess, "No, no. It's more than that. I've died."

I know it sounds dramatic, maybe even overstated, but all I can say is simply, it's true. Why else do I still feel compelled to justify these changes in myself, after six years, if not because a part, even a small part, of me still thinks I'm hooked up to life support and because of that, still technically alive? 

It's time to pull the plug, dig the grave and say goodbye. It's time for her to rest in peace.

* * * * *

This month, I'm done wrestling with residual shame of who I no longer am, wondering if I shouldn't have, perhaps, allowed myself to be resuscitated, if I can't, still, be brought back. Not because I want to go back, but because I wonder if I wasn't a better, kinder, more passionate and visionary person then. Someone God and family and friends and the world, even, could be prouder of than the person I am today.

But no. I'm not going back, because I'm finally admitting what I've known all along: I died back there in August. I died, yes, shed my old burning skin, and it didn't end there. I've climbed into new skin.

It's been a journey, pulling on this new skin, learning the feel of it on my frame. I'm still getting used to it, and you know what? I love my new skin. It's not smooth and unwrinkled, nor do I cover it up with layers of makeup in hopes it looks flawless. It's got scars and rough patches and stretchmarks. But it's mine and it's real. And I think, in all honesty, I'm more at home in this skin than I ever was in my old skin.

* * * * *

Last night as I washed the dishes and the light from the edges of day filtered through the blinds into the kitchen, I listened to a song about Mary praying, Be born in me, after saying Yes to bearing the Son of God in her womb, and I wept there at the sink. And I sang, too, Jesus, be born anew in me. The me in this new skin that I'm in. I don't care what it looks like or how its changed or who approves or disapproves, only that the truest skin I'll ever be in is the skin that stretches to make space for you to be born into, every day, to the end of my days. 

If that sink were a gravestone, it's there I knelt and wept and laid my old self to rest in the ground. And I stood up again, on shaky legs with a heart full of wonder, and I couldn't imagine feeling more grateful to be alive. To begin again.

Linking up with Lisa Jo for her last week of hosting Five-minute Friday. The prompt today is "Begin."