Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Over My Head: When the Rains Come

Drafter’s Note: I really did write this in its entirety from my airplane seat. And part of me wants to flesh it out and another part wants to put it in perspective but the ruling voice—majority vote or bossy vocalist is hard to call—says to leave this as I wrote it, because this is why I made this space to begin with: to be who I am.

I can't say that I don't know why I'm crying, why the tears seem to be related to gravity and thus closer to my surface the higher we climb. Last night in my eighth-floor hotel room I could feel the building pressure of them just beneath the surface, shifting every image to one seen through salty water. But today as the gravity lessens and our wheels lift from the tarmac I'm more grateful than I think I've ever been for this two-seater, this window, this two hours all to myself. Because loss seems inevitable—not every day, not all the time, but in some hours it grips across the skin the way I imagine an octopus would, relentless and stinging and impossible to remove. Some days it's brief, painful but passing. 

But there are moments when I cannot see an end but the obvious—and the simultaneously unknown. These tears will not be brushed away, and though they come quietly they will not be overpowered. I don't look for their end or their cause. Up here in the open I let them coast down my cheeks, hit my chest, roll where they will. Because though we coast over neighborhoods and highways there's no one beside me, no one to search for meaning or try to understand. How could they when I myself fall short of words? When only snippets and pieces of the brokenness find their way into focus? When the raw patches draw tears from the deep for the things that, barring a miracle, will never be felt by this heart? 

I let the mess run its course. I let the tears come as they need to and don't analyze their reasons. And I lean, lean reliantly and desperately and utterly into the Holy Spirit who harmonizes with me to make something beautiful, worthwhile and worship-worthy to my Father, my Tatì, the Writer and Remaker, the King and Captain and Comforter, the One who knows what He's doing and always has my hand and never forgets or falls or fails. He has a plan that is perfect for Him, and He draws me in again and again because His Son sacrificed everything to bring me home, and the Father loves me still, loves me too much to leave me out of the story that glorifies Him in every way.

And when the story seems too much for me—when the pages look blank and the words garble in my mouth and I don't know where to set my next step—keep me leaning into You, following after You, never quitting until that day that I am Home and falling at Your feet and having nothing but Your priceless name to cry back in glory, reason, worship, end, beginning.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Over My Head: This Morning

Drafter's Note: This was a prayer journal entry at 4:00am, a Facebook post at 5:30am, and is now shared here with minimal editing: a busy day for these little words. I wobbled on going public to this degree--brave faces are so tempting--but summarizing on social media didn't do it for me. I find myself wondering if this is a small way of speaking out, acknowledging brokenness and unglossed truth, in the face of the devastating and unbelievable in the world. 

Or maybe I'm just crazy.

Here I am, awake again--comfortably enough, with the rain pattering heavily and a little cold lo mein and the knowledge of a day of nothing set out before me.* No pressure to stay awake or rush back to sleep--I can hover in this limbo. Why not.

I can feel the little losses this morning--or maybe I'm just looking at them more head-on, acknowledging them more than usual. Nothing big. Just the pieces that aren't there: plots of books I've too-recently read, details of movies I think I love, names to match with new faces, lost lyrics to songs I can only rhythmically hum. And these are the pieces I notice missing. Are there larger holes, hard to see at a distance but gaping wide, ready to swallow more, gravitational black holes in my memory?

I don't know.

It feels that way sometimes.

But, to be fair, I've always had this melancholic strand woven through me, coming to the surface sporadically. Maybe these little lost pieces harmonize with the near-waltzy sway of melancholia to see those holes where there is, in fact, only good plowable ground. (I pull my dictionary app out here, and I stay with that word not for its first definition of mournful depression but for "sober thoughtfulness"--medievally, a bit too much black bile, which strikes the right note for me in here.**)

So this, too, like joys and dreams and supposed promises, I hold in open hands for You to take--or not.

And the image that comes--from You or me, I'm not sure--is You closing my fingers, letting me hold it while Your hands remain, holding mine. Sobering. Thoughtful.

(In these moments, it is simple to me how those in this legacy who chose a Saviorless life reached instead for a bottle: a supposed steadier for these waves and wobbles.)

So I'll sit here with You, Savior of mine. And together we will own this: the real and the imagined, the solid fact and the melancholic fog. You won't leave and I won't give up. You'll hold my hand until I fall asleep: each time, and then the last time, when you'll raise me out of the bile and into breaking, remaking, transforming light.

For now, in this time of imperfection, we see in a mirror dimly, 
we see a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma. 
But then, when the time of perfection comes, we will see reality face to face. 
Now I know in part, just in fragments, but then I will know fully, 
just as I have been fully known by God.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12, Amplified version 
(parentheses and brackets switched out for natural punctuation)

* Amazing how today ended up--almost like Someone was penning a better story. That "day of nothing" became an early morning of worship and quiet and peace; a later morning of service and great conversations with fellow churchgoers and strangers as we volunteered cleaning our neighbors' homes; an afternoon of great conversation and beautiful walk with a new friend; and later tonight, a game night with friends and other strangers. Prayerfully I'll remain conscious for everything. 

** "Melancholy," according to my dictionary app (combining some definitions but remaining true to order): 
          1) a gloomy state of mind; mournful; depressed; 
          2) sober thoughtfulness; pensiveness; 
          3) Archaic. the condition of having too much black bile. 
          Origin: 1275-1325 Middle English melancholie: condition of having black bile.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Proof of Life

Drafter's Note: I promise, I yet live. I promise, in fact, that I yet write--brief evidence below! Have just fallen off the bloggy wagon, as I seasonally do. (...In this case, three seasons. But who's keeping score.) A couple of items that have lived on my phone since I wrote them (in April and May, respectively), and should see the light of day--though apologies for the whiplash from the one to the other.

If you've returned, faithful reader, all I have is thank you.

Sitting by the Willamette on a Springy Morning

I've always been an ocean girl. The rhythm, the pulse of roaring-rough or quietly lapping waves has had a stilling, restful, spiritual effect on me since my earliest memories. From a girl playing pretend to a teenager's broken heart to the constant mess of "adulting," the sea has been more faithful than fathers, more healing than chemo. That pulse gently reminds me that there is no rush, that things will come in a time that is out of my control but exactly as it should be. A lullaby of rest, a practice of patience.

But this morning I sit in this diner, eavesdropping on the men near me discussing King Kongs they've known in their lengthy lifetimes, their histories and love interests--those of the ape, not themselves--and a few dozen feet away the Willamette (don't be an outsider: "will-AM-it") surges past us with shameless enthusiasm, hunks of ice from the mountains churning through it in an ancient calligraphy. 

And I realize that this might have spun me very differently, had I been raised by mighty rivers. There is no gentleness--what seems still is only skin over tumult and currents--and nothing comes to you, in any frame of time. It passes. It approaches and then flees and does not pause for you to wonder. I have a glimpse of Lewis and Clark, Huckleberry and Jim, of those who could not keep watching things lost but had to see where it went--not how it ended, but where it took them.

I wonder if it's possible to change--not to leave the sea (impossible!) but to let my salty soul get a little brackish as the constancy and rest is sometimes traded for the unknown, the passage, a new world around this next bend. Because no one is called to stay. Not always. Shifts--physical or something larger--may be infrequent but no less necessary. Not running away, not fear of commitment, but knowing that sometimes a churning is good for the soul. Remembering what's passed, what was good and what was lacking, but taking the risk of the new and unknown. 

Like the Kongs, I think, and bring my attention from the surging script of the river, but the conversation has moved past Kongs old and new, traded for self-driving cars. I drain my cold coffee and gather my things--time to move on, even in little ways. 

"Tell me," asks one of them, leaning over and looking into his mug, "how does it know what 'home' means." 

      --      --      --      --      --      --      --      --  

Can I Be a Witness

I don't know where Cain's wife came from.

I just thought I'd open on that note, because it comes up a lot--that, or some other quiz question aimed to stymie Christ-followers who call the Bible a holy text. I've discussed and debated and studied that book over college classroom tables and youth group meetings and in conversation with friends and with my own self. And some things I know and some I don't, but when it comes down to it I can't prove a single one. I won't win this argument--in fact, I'll try not to enter it at all.

I can't prove God created the world, and knit me together while my mother thought she'd just have a son. I can't prove that Jesus, Son of God, gave Himself to pay my sin debt. I'd drown in the details of why God cared enough for broken people to sacrifice the perfect to save them. Thankfully, I don't have to. I can't make it all make fit together--maybe because it doesn't, and mostly because I don't need to.

All I am is a witness.

I've witnessed God step into my life in the wake of brokenness and redirect us to new family and community found in a church. 

I've witnessed Him close my ears to opportunities of wreckage and addiction as a teenager, piecing something else, something less polluted together. 

I've witnessed Him save my life--keep me from acting on my considerations of suicide--by weaving people and books and song lyrics into something that resembled this faith everyone else had talked about and I'd never known. 

I've witnessed Him send me into a foreign country to find how unfathomably big He is, how blessed I am, how to worship Him outside of words I knew. 

I've witnessed Him steer me from place to place, job to job, calling to calling. 

I've witnessed Him heal me of deep wounds, bring me out of habits and thought patterns that owned me, and lead me from puddles that vaguely met needs to springs that overwhelmed and restored. 

And I've witnessed Him take a simple prayer--"come and do whatever you want to"--and weave a seizure and a brain tumor and a biopsy and radiation and chemo and MRIs and bald spots into the best story I've ever had. 

And that's just the highlight reel.

I can't prove to you that my God, this particular God of mine, did all this. 

All I have is my story... and the fact that my story lines up in crazy ways with those of friends of mine... and echoes back to those stories that fill up the pages of that holy book that never sits on a shelf because it is too actively harmonizing with my life to put it away.

Like sitting in a box where the lawyers will argue and accuse and the judge will decide, all I can do is tell what I know. Not because someone told me to or I read it somewhere. Just because this is my story.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sucker Punches & Resuscitations

Drafter's Note:
A couple of assurances:
1: It was a surprise to see how long it's been since my last post--I've been writing a lot! But it's been of a less public nature--no big stuff, just processing. (And, for the record, I wrote this two weeks ago...!)
2: I haven't spent the three months since my last post stewing on fatherlessness. Promise.

Four people--two adults holding two toddlers--stand in front of a huge mirror and count themselves, call themselves by name and identity. The names of two little boys, "and Mommy Karen and Daddy Matt." The boys smile, but there is something else in their eyes, and it will take its time in leaving.

I spent two weeks of this month in Canada getting to know my new nephews. They are towhead blonds and they squawk and scream and make silly blubbering noises and crash trucks and trains and hammers into every surface from book to floor to flesh and I am head over heels. I love feeling out each one's personality, finding how they overlap and distinguish themselves even at two and three years old. And even in our play, it breaks me to see them working out their already broken history as they test their new parents, claw for attention, need to be assured of sameness and stability. I want to wipe this away from them like maple syrup from their faces, but I know it doesn't work that way.

I know even as I watch my brother embrace and be this new thing, a father--alternately joking and tickling, teaching, gently disciplining--that this initial brokenness may stay with them, not unhealed but not erased. I know because even as I went to write about it, I found myself breaking apart. It has been nearly three decades and countless prayers and journal entries and blog posts since my father left us and that ache still opens every once in a while.

Pulled from sleep with that ache, I stood in the kitchen making coffee and thinking about early brokenness, about how it is the ultimate sucker punch: the one who is supposed to have your back, to never fail, to always be waiting for you is suddenly not there. At times, I still haven't caught my breath. I wonder if these beautiful boys will know the same.

Even as I started to write this, I had to spend a few minutes having a full-waterworks ugly cry--for me, for the boys, for getting broken before you know what whole is. I cried and I looked through the ceiling to the God Who Hears and I had no words but He listens anyway and it's there that I find the response to that sucker punch: the God who fashioned supernovae and the gnats that circled the cantaloupe in the kitchen this morning has every right and reason to be above, away, outside... and instead He is right here. He doesn't pat me on the head or remind me how often we've talked this one through. He just is. He just stays. He just heals and restores and remakes and breathes new life into us--the ultimate resuscitation--and fifteen years after I started bringing each angle of this hurt to Him, I am still pulling that new breath into my once-crushed lungs. He remains, and that is a truth stronger than stories.*

I watch my brother and my sister-in-law act this truth out to their boys, reflecting the love and restoration of God. I see it as they count themselves in the mirror, as they hold and hug. I hear them speak slowly and carefully: our books, our toys. Our house. Our forever family. Even in discipline, in time-outs and temper tantrums, love and stability and permanence are woven in amidst it with "I'm still here" and "I love you." They echo the love God has lavished on them, the healing He has worked on their wounds.

"God in His holy dwelling is a father to the fatherless... 
God provides homes for those who are deserted." 
Psalm 68:5, 6 (Holman translation)

"a truth stronger than stories" is maybe my favorite line from a poem I wrote about the loss of my father, saying that he "was gone, and that is a truth stronger than stories." (You can read it here.) That remains true--but there are other, better, eclipsing truths.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Maybe I'll Be Sorry When You're Gone

If you said goodbye to me tonight,
there would still be music left to write...

"This song always makes me think of when my father died," I say casually, and my friend snaps her face toward mine as we sit at the traffic light. "I know," I cut in before she can say the necessary "...This song?"

I know it's a love song. It's whimsical and weird and meant to be accompanied by snapping fingers. I'd be hard-pressed to find something further from funereal. But his death remains one of the oddest events in my life--too many emotions and nowhere to put them but in the past--and there's a certain justice in associating it with such an unexpected song. 

It was one of the first times I ever knew my thought patterns and my words to travel two different routes, because multiple times that day I went to say, "I found out my father died," and in my head all the words were calm and sad and slow, but as they left my mouth they were hijacked by a jumble of hiccuping sobs so the listener heard something like, "I found out my father dAAAGGHHhhhyyyykkkk--" before the place that makes the words yelled at my hands to stop my mouth.

But as the hours and days went by, those routes began to merge. I could say it with only choking up but no tears, or tears but no choke. I learned to insert "estranged," a word I'd never used, as that guided the listener in their response. I spent hours talking through the mess with my brother, my mother, my closest friends, forcing words through emotions like raw garlic in a press.

A couple weeks passed, and the summer trip to my uncle's place on the Cape suddenly seemed heavier, important. I tried to ready myself, to consider my words and looks so I could be truthful but not hurtful, allowing for all of our emotion jumbles to jumble in one house.

But there were no words about him. That first dinner began with a quiet toast, "considering recent events." The words seemed distant--a prepared statement--but you could feel the pain nearly choking them away in delivery. That same sort of traffic jam of words and emotions I'd been feeling, just in a different head. And that was it. A couple days later, some stifled tears, but my hesitant hand was shrugged away. And then nothing at all. We talked about everything else but him, which is the way our family has always handled something. Of the emotions I felt, I realized surprise wasn't one of them. 

That last night I was there, we went out to dinner, talking and laughing--a medicinal, necessary kind of pretend. And later we were driving home in the dark woods of the Cape, four windows open and four faces looking out at nothing in particular. And gradually the quiet voices on the radio were joined by one, two, four more. Not singing together--no harmonies or shared looks--but not singing alone. Singing louder, voices pressing further out our respective windows, accompanied by Billy Joel and tears or laughter, it was honestly hard to tell.

Maybe this won't last very long.
      - - -
I don't care what consequence it brings--I've been made a fool for lesser things.
      - - -
Maybe I'll be sorry when you're gone.

About a year before he died, my father and I and a dozen other relatives from that side of the family were vacationing together near Rockland, drinking and reading and playing croquet and cards. And at one of my peak moments of frustration, when all The Unsaid Stuff was piled up to my ears, my father stopped me in the stairway and apologized. And for a second I thought we were going to have a Dr. Phil-style breakthrough, but he was only assuring me that if he'd seemed frustrated, it wasn't at me but my grandmother, who was driving him crazy "because she just leaves so much unsaid." Wired with a different personality, I might have said, "How fascinating--sit down for a second. I feel the same way about you." But I assured him (honestly--more honestly than I intended, in fact) that I hadn't felt anything from him at all.

When I think of that night on the Cape, I hope someone was walking their dog along the road that night, and as our car rolled by the song grew and peaked and faded, like a strange incarnation of yuletide carolers. I hope there was surprise, and then a quiet laugh. I hope that somehow four mournings equaled one small joy out there in the dark. 

Or maybe the joy I'm thinking of is mine. Because recalling this seven-years-gone story to my friend, I remember the jumble and the tears, but not as fully and clearly as the laughing through those tears, as stumbling over lyrics that we mostly sort of knew, as letting words find their own way through the mess.

And it's more than I hoped for.

Monday, March 21, 2016

An Unreliable Witness

Drafter’s Note: This is not an Over My Head postthis isn't about things that are happening to me. This is about the things I can control—my response, reactions, attitude, self—and how I let the world break a little more when I don’t.

There have been some constant frustrations in my life lately that are out of my control. They are fixable, but I am not in a place to fix them, and so my frustration stews and ferments. It turns into something else, even worse than the initial frustration. It’s some kind of magic, but not a useful one.

Frustration isn't new—all of us have those everyday things in our way that we [think we] could dismantle in five minutes were we in charge, but instead they sit. Being. Irritating. And like any other irritant—allergies, bug bites, Donald Trump—the most desirable way to deal with it (avoidance, scratching, one solid slap in the face) doesn't actually fix the problem. Doesn't even address the problem, but just knee-jerk reacts to it. Which is, in fact, just another layer of problem—a smear of mud instead of a Band-Aid. Hardly magic, now that I’m writing it out. Which fits, as my most commonly-used verb these days isn’t “witch” but “wench,” an approved-for-all-audiences substitute for bitch, as in “bitch and moan.” And I list that out because at the end of the day, that’s all it is: moaning. When you get hurt, you make a noise—you cry, you moan—but then you get to work fixing, healing. Moaning is the natural, and maybe even necessary, reaction. But it’s not the fix.

How do I know? Because in the quiet, when I come home, when I don’t have an audience to wench to, those wenchy thoughts start rolling over me:
  Wow, you talk a lot.
  Why did you say that?
  How did that fix anything?
  What is wrong with you?
Because those wenchy reactions I had caused reactions of their own, and like too many waves in an enclosed space, they echo back at me at odd angles and only then do I see the full reflection: That instead of being a peacemaker, a reconciler, a counselor, I choose—a choice, not foisted upon me—to be this whiny, negative, simpering thing.

How quick I am to justify here—so many explanations that start with, “No,” like I’m answering an accuser. I want to list and recount all the offenses against me, but those are the things I cannot help, that are outside my authority. My reactions, how I live, is not. The outside factors that affect me and those around me, we all deal with. But why do I weigh down myself and those around me with all of my mess, too?

Here's why this matters, and why it matters now. Why I’m writing this.

Because this week, I remember and celebrate the strange and beautiful story of Holy Week: of a God-man who could have moved heaven and earth and instead took my punishment, my mess, on Himself so that I could live free of it. Not because I was something special, but because He is. As usual, the math makes no sense to me but I know it works out with no remainder because I've experienced it, I know it to be true. I'm not a victim, as my wenching might claim, but a witness.

No, I didn’t stand in crowds shouting first "Save now!" and then "Crucify!" I'm a witness because that very crucifying of muck and mess that I had, that very saving me and replacing mess with where-did-this-come-from joy and hope—that happened to me, and continues to happen to me.

It happened when I contemplated suicide in my late teens, and again when I struggled with identity and image in my early twenties; it happened when I lost a dad I never remember having and when I sat in an ER and heard "tumor;" it happens every little time I hand over something useless and dark—jealousy, selfishness, deceit, unkindness—and take up something better, from Something other than me. I could be a witness of this, a storyteller of my own personal proved truth.

But my testimony recently cannot be relied on to testify to who Christ is, and what He has done. I have been as bedraggled and messy and negative as anyone else lately, and not even for big justifiable reasons like brain tumors. It's been the little stuff, the daily stuff, the everybody-deals-with-this stuff. And I've proven an unreliable witness because my present day-to-day life doesn't back up my story, my testimony, of who I am in Christ.

We overuse “turning over a new leaf” and the like. And I don’t say that I’ll be perfect at this tomorrow because I won’t be. But I want to be better. I want to be the one people come to with their frustrations and hurts (and joys and jokes), not the one who piles on more. I want to be a witness—authentic and reliable—for hope and optimism and camaraderie. And when they wonder where that hope comes from, I want to testify boldly to Who gets me through my life. And what better time to commit, again, daily, to that than Holy Week?

I was driven to write this. As one of our pastors read yesterday, the Holy Spirit prompted Philip to do something, and he ran to do it (Acts 8:29-30). So while other posts simmer for weeks and months in my head and on my phone, this has gone from prompting to posting in hours. I trust that means there’s a reason for it—and hopefully, prayerfully, not just for me. When the Spirit prompts and the only potential loss is pride, you don’t wait, you don’t even walk. You run.

So this is where the witness confesses.

I’m sorry that I put my pride and self ahead of better things like compassion and peacemaking.
I’m sorry for being another negative voice in the crowd instead of a counter, an alternative.
I’m sorry for not listening, for waiting (or, more often, not waiting) for my turn to speak.
I’m sorry for valuing surface things over truth, popularity over balanced peace.
I’m sorry if this is the first time you’ve heard/read me say Jesus’s name.
I’m sorry if you’ve seen nothing to distinguish how I live from the rest of the chaos.
All of that is on me, not Him.

My shortcomings and failures are mine. Please don’t hold them against others who share my faith—and most importantly, don’t think that my messy, hypocritical self accurately reflects what Jesus is, and what He does. It’s only an indication of how indomitable He is, that He hasn’t given up on me yet. Let me be a witness that He is doing massive things, in me and in the world; that even my present mess can testify to what He’s already done in me, and points to the work He has in mind.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down…
He was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
Isaiah 53:4-5

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Three Lovers, in Brief

"The sight of the huge world put mad ideas into me, as if I could wander away, wander forever, see strange and beautiful things, one after the other to the world's end."
- C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

I can't say what it is about being up here that I love, that puts me at a different ease than anything else. I'm no child, I don't look for fairies or angels. And though it's no spiritual heaven, I wonder if that trips at the reason: that up here I am heavenward, not so much up as away, apart. As a hundred intimates and I plow through perfect white cloud in a little humming machine, the worries and unrelenting questions fall earthward, corralled in the geometries of midwest farmland, diverted into the hollers of the Blues and Smokies, disoriented in the plains and deserts of the West. And I am left with nothing between me and the words that seem to have been waiting for me up here with the clouds.

“While I, haunted by a magic tune,
should know to come in out of the moon.”
Paul Frances Lowe, my grandfather

The moon is a strange fascination, in part for the duration of my love for it. To lie in my dark room and feel its cool brightness even through closed eyes, finding none of the spooky and suspect notions of ancestors... Though these days, I can’t miss that those ancestors believed gazing at the moon caused seizures. Lunatic, indeed. But it’s more than beauty; it’s the wonder and reminder of light in darkness, of the power of reflection, of watchfulness, of fullness, of just being. The moon does nothing special; it just passes something along. And it’s always been a comfort to me, the surest way to slide into sleep and peace.

"For whatever we lose, like a you or a me, 
it is always ourselves we find at the sea."
- e. e. cummings, [maggie and millie and molly and may]

This has circled my heart and clutched at my memory for the dozen years since my fingers first pressed to the verse. Crashing surf or gentle lapping, smooth sand or rocky outcroppings, from land or vessel--the sea brings me home to the girl who wandered beaches instead of streets, who spoke with friends and imagined lovers, who sang into the wind and wondered how far it could carry before the notes dissolved. The sea and I are different every time we meet, but there is a heartbeat in me that finds a syncopated natural rhythm with the waves. Regardless of coast or temperature, the sea steeps me in history, and in the unchanging weight of the everlasting.