Sunday, December 27, 2015

This Christmas: Joy, Mourning, & Joy in the Mo(u)rning

I wanted to stop each family and person--or maybe wear a helpful explanatory sign--to say that this wasn't Vanna White schtick. I wasn't being paid to stand here in the cold fog and be happy. My "Welcome" and "Merry Christmas" and "Come on in" were genuine, were meant, were whole-hearted. This glowing place behind me, through this open door, is my home and church, and you--if you call this family or you've only stepped into churches for weddings and funerals--are welcome, just as you are.

(See, even here, I need the sign. No schtick! This is who I am, who we are: an open arm, welcoming but also giving you your own space to see, test, experience.)

But as I stood there on Christmas Eve, unable (or maybe just unwilling) to tone down my smile, I couldn't help but let the Dickensian fog float me into past Christmas Eves: the present, and the last two.

Two years ago was joyful--I had hit my thirties in full-joy mode as I found a true Place for Me among my friends-made-family, my church and ministry, and my job. I knew all I needed to know, and I looked expectantly to the next year as one of growth and new things, opportunities to stretch even further in my own strength and in faith. "Giddy" is the word that comes to mind--I was ebullient with hope and eagerness for where we were going.

One Christmas ago, life had changed, had upturned and uprooted. Up was down, black was white. The things I had been thrilled by were now causes of pain. I had watched, powerless and slack-jawed, as great divorces rippled across my community, and with God communicating some things clearly, I was still not allowed to react, to break things and yell and lecture as I wanted to. (God is smart, and knows that that strategy hardly ever works, I suppose, as good as it might feel.) And in other places--namely, What Am I Supposed to Do Now?, He had remained silent until just a couple weeks earlier, when He had begun to confirm things with me--but remind me also of commitments I had made, and my inability to act immediately and still keep my word, so on the eve of Christmas I sat looking down a tunnel of waiting, months long and lonely and dark. I was mournful. I sat in my mother's church, and looked at that growing and joyful community with ache and woundedness--intellectually I remembered how that felt, but it was like that year of pain had taken away my ability to feel that. Glimmers and moments, but nothing secure. Nothing real.

And then there is this Christmas Eve. And in some ways, it's hard to make sense of this, because the woman you saw last year, from the outside, should be more complete than this one. She'd had hair, for one thing. By any human accounting, I should be bitter this Christmas; sad, exhausted, weak. But that human accounting does not take that Sunday last spring into account, stepping into a new church and knowing it was being given to me as mine, as a gift. Having a seizure this summer, yes, but never knowing a moment of it or the diagnosis that followed on its heels without my friends-made-family with me, first holding my hand and then making a bed for me so I wouldn't go home to silence. Living under this new life-redefining thing this fall, and watching God use it to strengthen relationships and solder my dependence on Him all the more and lead me to bring Him into conversations and relationships where I'd never allowed Him before. Being so wrapped up into this new church, not because of what I can bring it, not because of this headlining story, but because the family of Jesus draws people in for the outliers' sakes. With an open arm, welcoming but also giving space.

And so I stand in this present, and am still, continually, amazed to see God very steadily and at times literally turn my mourning into dancing.

You did it: you changed wild lament into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God, I can’t thank you enough.

Psalm 30:11-12, The Message

And so tonight, this Christmas Eve, it's with a degree of authority that I welcome you, stranger. You stepped gingerly from your car, you checked your phone twice as you walked toward the building, and I saw as every doubt rolled around you: your fear that walking through this door won't fix what's wrong. And I'm not here to argue with you--it won't. Few of us ever trade mourning for dancing overnight, let alone in one service. But you take each singular step. "Come back next week," Eric advised as he spoke.

Come back--to our church or another, that's not the point. But come back. Because staying away may numb the pain but it doesn't heal it. The only thing that heals is handing it over to a King who was so eager to reach us that He didn't come to royals on a throne but to shepherds--regarded as unclean and unworthy in their culture--and a shamed, rumor-covered couple.

I stood greeting again for the third service, and greeted the last of roughly a thousand people, and wondered, out there in the fog, about that Christmas Future. While I don't see some dark skeletal specter, Ebeneezer, it is certainly unknowable. In a year when a brain tumor was part of a wave of joy, what on earth could 2016 bring to surprise me? And yet, I have no doubt that surprise is on the docket. And so I take another half-step into the arms of that King who came into my life like He did that first time: with subtlety, with quiet, unwilling to scare me, but instead asking, over and over and over again, to be brought in, to be able to remake me not only each Christmas but every morning (and maybe more often than that). He doesn't tell me the future--as one of my favorite verses says, I wouldn't believe Him if He did (Habakkuk 1:5). But He knows it, and the closer I am to Him, the more my eyes are on Him, the less those winds and waves rock me--or more accurately, the more stable I feel regardless of them. "Lift your head," sings Amanda Cook on the album I haven't stopped listening to since August. "Now the wind and waves don't matter."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Over My Head: The Story or Healing

(Pre-script: It's cold in my living room this morning, and I went over to my stack of hats. I set a couple others aside in order to pull a certain previously-mentioned red hat over my head and around my ears. It is even more comfy and perfect and helmet-like than I imagined.)

That title's not a typo.

I found comfort last night as I read through my other OMH posts--the comfort of knowing this feeling isn't new. Each time I hear someone ask in tremulous prayer for healing, I have an inner knee-jerk reaction, and I have from the beginning.

I feel like I come to this point from so many places: I am so aware of God's wonder-working abilities to heal. I am constantly reminded of his loving care for me. I am grateful for the prayers of those around me--close friends, and friends-of-friends who've never set eyes on me. I don't want to discourage faith or prayer, but I do want to direct it--not to my narrow vision, but to the openness of God's purpose in this.

The LORD replied... "Be astonished! Wonder!
For I am doing something in your days--
you would not believe it if you were told."
Habakkuk 1:5

I have loved that verse from the first time I came upon it. It rests comfortably in my head, and (when I'm not overblown with emotion) frames every prayer: His vision and plan in this is massively bigger than I can construct. If I pray for something and it doesn't happen, the answer wasn't so much "No," as "Mmmm better. Keep watching."

My sister-in-law set aside specific times to pray over me this last week while she was here, resting an open hand on my shoulder or fuzzy scalp. And each time, she used the words that have hovered in my own head, and that I have shared here: that God would continue to write this story through my life as He has imagined it. That He would give peace and calming and refreshing when necessary. But not that He would just take this away because it's scary.

I listened to another friend as she prayed for me recently. And knowing her heart, I don't say this with an ounce of judgment--I know her prayer was spoken through her love for me--but as she asked for healing, all I heard was fear. She spoke the right words, but wrapped through the curves and holes of them was the fear of unanswered specific prayer, and the shuddering vacancy behind it: I am asking for a good thing, so if You don't do what I'm asking for, how can You call Yourself good?
(Please, please do not pray this way, because it is rooted in a lie. God is good; we are blind to the big picture.)

In a still moment before my biopsy, I was lying on a gurney, my head bolted into a metal frame. And in the quiet of a bustling hospital hallway, I felt a gentle nudge: "Do you want Me to heal you of this?" I don't know what would have happened if I'd answered differently. I don't really think He was asking if it was okay to do one thing or the other--when I'm making big decisions, I don't go to a toddler for my answer, either. But I think He was asking me to look at the options.

Option 1: (Yes.) The story goes that Chandra is taken in to the biopsy, and Jeff the Wonder-Surgeon drills into her skull to discover... brain! All brain! No tumor! Chandra gets a stitch, tosses her meds in the trash, and skips off into her old life. ...And when she meets someone with cancer a year from now, she says something mildly kinder-sounding than, "I had that once but God loved me and fixed it." And the person with cancer changes the subject and pretty much never talks to Chandra again. Story done.

Option 2: (...No.) The story goes that Chandra has her biopsy, and is given several labels and names. Chandra's treatment is scheduled, intimidating glass bottles with yellow warning labels and poison decals arrive in the mail, a mask presses over her face for a daily swarming of machines, her hair comes out in handfuls. And hopefully, gradually, the tumor stops growing, maybe even shrinks a touch. Story...continues down there toward the end...

I know--how is Option 2 even an option? But there on the gurney that morning, taking slow breaths and moving as little as possible from the pain, the story-loving storyteller in me piped up, like the small child with the word of wisdom. "No," she said. "I want You to tell me and my friends a good story."

"Come and do whatever You want to."   - "Crash Over Me," cited 

The thesis statement, I suppose:
My God created the world, invented thunderstorms and kiwis for fun. He saved me from death and despair and my own stupid self, and keeps on saving me, always, repeatedly. It's not that I don't think He can or wants to heal me--He is healing me all the time, from things much less finite than a tumor: selfishness, self-shame, deceit, disappointment, narrowmindedness, sin. He is at work, doing massive things in me, and whether Junior stays or goes doesn't speak a word against His power or compassion.

A brief example: My hair.
I sugarcoated the likelihood of hair loss in my mind, telling myself and everyone who would listen that I've always wanted to buzz my hair. That's truth--but it's also a cover story.
The history: I never felt like a girl. I played the princess as a small child, but by elementary school I was playing with the boys, never wearing skirts, hating the color pink. As my friends slimmed and then curved in the places they were supposed to, I did not: my weight piled on, my breasts remained in stealth mode, I was 17 before I got my period. I was forever The Girl the Guy Talked to About Other Girl, the one who was described as "Not being, like, a girl-girl," as though that was a compliment. Makeup, jewelry, cute shoes--these are things I have played at but never been comfortable with. Of course, Being a Woman is far more than that, but if we are talking feelings, I've never felt it.
The now: My first handful of hair was in a grocery store line with my local family. The next day in the shower I was nearly sick with how it piled out, how I had to pry wet handfuls like dead animals from my hands. "So much for looking like a girl," I said to myself as a joke, but felt the tears well. I went to my local family's house that night to make it fun, to keep myself from crying. And instead we laughed--laughed till we cried, in fact--and did makeup, and took pictures, and I couldn't stop smiling. The next day I kept catching reflections of myself and laughing, giggling like a schoolgirl, charmed by her own self. "I feel pretty," I told the mirror the next day, casually applying some mascara like it was something I did when I felt like it. Pretty as opposed to beautiful in that everyone-is-beautiful-on-the-inside way, the way I've repeated to myself like a mantra for twenty years. Bald patches and dark stubble all over my big head, and I only wear a hat when I'm cold because I feel not like a woman as much as a girl: silly and adorable and stumbling and graceful not because she's trying but just because she is. I am seeing myself as a completely renewed thing, and how could I possibly trade that in now, knowing what I know? Who would choose keeping their hair over that? But had God told me a month ago that I would shave my head and feel more feminine and actually-really-in-the-face beautiful, I would not have believed Him.

Option 2, continued:  This story is not a medical one about a dangerous tumor. The enemy is not a 10-year-old growth. There are relationships that are formed, conversations that happen, personal strongholds that are torn down and overcome only because of the timing and placement of this weird thing. There is a God who is praised for being always more than this woman thought He was. This woman with cancer doesn't just have cancer, in the same way that she doesn't just have blue eyes or a sense of humor--this is just another piece that makes her who she is, and allows her to meet and interact and love and be loved by dozens of people she never would have known; Lives are changed starting--but not ending--with hers.

I have needed to write this, and have wrestled with it, for weeks. It is not my intention to discourage you from praying, or to be/appear ungrateful. In fact, please, pray for healing:  pray that I would continue to be healed from brokenness, from frustrations and lying and impatience and a lack of compassion. Pray that I would speak with people more, listen to them more, be a better person and friend. Pray for me and my mother and the rest of my family as we process the emotions and the steps of this process. Praise God for the amazing church He has set me in for this season.

But don't pray that my brain tumor would suddenly miraculously be gone.
Not because it couldn't happen.
Not because it's asking for too much.
But because it's asking for too little.

You hold my every moment
You calm my raging seas
You walk with me through fire
And heal all my disease
I trust in You, I trust in You

I believe You're my healer
I believe You are all I need
~ Kari Jobe, "Healer"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Over My Head: Beauty in the Waiting

"Come and do
whatever You want to..."

I wrote out those lyrics the night before this little neurological adventure began, so it was with more than a wink at God as I wrote them out again the last week, hours before my mom and I would head out into the dark morning for my biopsy.

There have been days already in this process where I've prayed for the surface things--calming fear, granting peace--and there will, in not too long, come days when I just plead for it all to go away. But so far, I've tried to let this song define and hedge my prayers in this direction: that whatever the bigger-plan, higher-calling, God-sized dream of this is, let it be that. Because my version is purposeless, and pretty boring: Chandra has a brain tumor, Chandra gets brain tumor treated and removed, tumorless Chandra returns to Chandra's normal life.

That's a terrible story. I would never read that story. Why I would choose to live it (and I would) is beyond me.

God's version is a much better story--it will be. I know this, because He has written my story far better than I could have, right from the beginning. And right from the beginning, there were things that *shouldn't* have happened, had I been the editor: a father wouldn't have left, I would have fit in with the crowd, I wouldn't have wrestled with depression and suicide. But those things shaped me, and drove me into a life that is better not in spite but because of the pain and struggle.

So that's how this will be, too. I've decided. No turning back, no turning back.

Many people were praying for me Tuesday morning and, if we're being honest, some of those prayers weren't answered as requested. If you prayed for a lack of pain or stress, for a smooth transition to recovery, for a quick process, for rest, none of those things happened. The pain was otherworldly. The stress was more than slight. The process less than smooth.

"This isn't exactly what you described," I breathed as the screws cinched the metal frame tighter around my head, and I repeated to myself that it wasn't actually going to split me in twain like a horror movie. "I know," my neurosurgeon replied, and I understood his wisdom: that sometimes it's better to go in blind. Even with my immense trust in him, my stress whirred my heart like a strange instrument that my lungs couldn't match. Pain and stress were my compatriots all morning.

I had the earliest surgery slot, with the plan to move me to a room as soon as the 4-hour recovery watch ended. Four hours became ten before I was moved upstairs. Everyone who has heard this has sighed and frowned, and growled of hospital organization, and apologized. Those who prayed for swiftness and speed were given a no.

But I didn't pray for painlessness or total calm or speed. I prayed that He would come and do whatever He wanted to.*

To say that I floated in a calm state of godly quiet for the day would be the greatest of inaccuracies. I was frequently frustrated, in pain, exhausted. But there were moments--sometimes seconds, sometimes hours--when He showed up in me, and everything else paled in comparison, as it always does.

There was Gwen, the wonder-woman nurse who could find a vein even when there wasn't one to find. This was her introduction, and as she petted and swatted at my hands looking for a blue line, I prayed it was true. She found one, but no dice. As she found a second, she met my eyes with seriousness: "Sometimes, all you can do is pray." I squeezed her hand as the needle slipped in, painful but fruitful. "Prayer works," I sighed back, and she smiled and nodded and pressed the gauze firmly to my hand.

The next was Casey, who was calm and sweet but I initially dismissed her as flighty. Until my neurosurgeon told me to close my eyes and I began to feel first needles and then screws, and nothing in the world existed but that pain--and her hand, which was holding mine, petting it lightly like you would a bird. Every ounce of me went into that corner, and I only distantly heard my neuro surgeon say, "You're refusing to say, 'Ouch,' so I'll say it for you?" When they wheeled me to Recovery, she came around to look at me, and brushed my hair away from the clotting blood on my forehead. I don't remember what she said--"You'll be pretty again soon," or something like it. One of those weird things that's exactly what you needed to hear.

There was Liddy and Amanda, both friendly and, as the hours ticked by, increasingly compassionately frustrated for me. They brought ginger ale and saltines, and apologized for not being able to do anything more. They agreed that I should be Miss Congeniality for putting up with such a wait, listening over and over to other patients wake up, groggy and confused, and hear the explanations of surgery going well, wives waiting to see them, timeframes of going home.

But my favorite is what kept me from writing this for a week, because it doesn't suit my writing needs. She was the nurse I bonded with the most, the one I would never have seen (let alone had multiple real conversations with) had I not been stuck in Recovery so long. She was the one who brought me mac & cheese and green jello, and a real bed to replace the sweat-inducing gurney. She bore a reasonable resemblance to Belle, but in scrubs. And the problem is, I never knew her name.

Her tag was flipped, and we were always too busy talking for me to ask. And I didn't want to list everyone else and miss her.

But yesterday, I started thinking about the number of interactions I'll have in this journey that are momentary, or that I won't remember at all. Those are still people who can be affected--by my being pissed off at lying prostrate for ten hours, or by me being kind, talkative, interested, real. In short, I think her name is supposed to be blank for me, to remind me that I won't see all the pieces fall into place, and that the unknown doesn't make its own excuse. There are dozens--hundreds?--of people I will interact with only because I have a tumor, only because I needed that test or this treatment.

I can sigh through the wait. I can whimper and post on Facebook and growl and be pitiful in every sense of the word. And there will doubtless be times when I do.

But I'm glad I prayed what I prayed last week. I'm glad He came and did whatever He wanted to, because it meant Gwen and Casey and Liddy and Amanda and two dozen other nameless nurses and residents and the like. I'm glad it hurt, because it meant the ease of pain was another wall down, another thing to be thankful for. I'm glad I couldn't wash my hair for three days, because every time it ticked me off I reminded myself that its time on my head might be short, and to breathe thanks. A week later, I'm still occasionally woozy, and still have to half-dry my hair in order not to upset stitches, but still I'm glad.

He's doing what He wants to.

Let's do this.

* Please don't take this to mean my prayers count more than others--only, as one of our pastors reminded us on Sunday, "When you pray with boldness, brace yourself. Adventure is coming."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Over My Head: My Mother, Knitting

My mother has been sitting in chairs on the porch, in the kitchen, knitting. It is August and we are in a beach house and she is knitting--thick, cable-knit, gradually narrowing and cinching. It is bright red, almost unnaturally red, something out of a children's book, the one that is all sepia tones and this single red thing. It is history and symbol and other things bigger than itself, the pattering scrape of wooden needles singing a song over and through it.

She has not said the words, but I knew before I saw its shape that it was a hat. I knew before she tossed it across the table, halfway-done, to check the sizing, that it was for me. It is soft and the yarn is thick and she says it's acrylic so it won't bleed or shrink.

What hangs like humidity over our heads is what this hat is for. Winter holds no real mysteries for us, and Alaskan-born and Maine-living, the snows and winds don't frighten me anymore. But I am not acrylic. A different season, less defined and not to be easily outsmarted, hangs before us. Now, it is still summer, and this perfect place meant for vacating our troubles has tried to protect us as it has before, but real life is not escaped so easily as it was when I was a child. I still let out the usual sigh as we crossed the Cape Cod Canal, but some burdens refuse to be left at the bridge. Summer soon fades, and there will be pills and infusions, poisons meant to save me, plots of myths and fairy tales twisted in on themselves. And in an effort not to lose my life, I will bleed and shrink, and I will lose my hair.

And here in this vacation place of history and rest, in this small way my mother does what she can to save me in all this unknown. This is no knit hat but a helmet straight from those myths and stories I love, surged and bound in the burning forge-heart of a woman whose child is out past her in the storm. It is prayer and love, each ring of knits and purls its own hedge of protection rounded in soft bright red.

I am sweating from the heat of the kitchen when she puts it in my hand, complete, a blessing in cabled cord. But it is too hot, and I hold it and press it to the table, at first unable to contemplate more layers but also in acknowledgment that this season isn't here yet. In months, maybe weeks, my head will be shiny and smooth and vulnerable, and I will slide this unnaturally vibrant guard over my ears and let it hold me together. It will cover scars and evidences, and will force the cold and pain and weakness that waits for me to stand off just a little more because This Is a Woman Whose Mother Loves Her, and she will not be easily taken. 

"God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.
Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles
and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil. Selah...
'Stop your fighting—and know that I am God,
exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.'
Yahweh of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah."
Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Review: Pray Like a Gourmet

In a hard contrast to my previous review, I really wasn't expecting to like this one, I don't even remember why I requested it, other than maybe a vague "Jesus is your jam, food is your jam, you can't not request this book" knee-jerk.

For one thing, the title. It rhymes! What's that about?? Also, book-long metaphors hardly ever hold up: they look good for two chapters, and by the halfway point you're ready to throw the book through the nearest window. The book arrived, and there were all these colors and different fonts... Oh, it was going to be a mess. I sat down and prepared myself to be annoyed and underwhelmed by Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul by David Brazzeal.

My first heart in the margin (shorthand for "love this") is on the second page. My first exclamation point (good point/review note) is on the fifth, and it just never stopped: I loved this book. Brazzeal expertly uses his meal metaphor, drawing lines between lingering over or rushing through food or prayer, repetition versus exploration, alone or with friends, simple or elaborate. (It bears mentioning, he also knows when the metaphor doesn't stretch, and doesn't force it.) "Does your prayer life feel like you're eating the same food over and over every day--mixing the same ingredients but hoping for a new, more enticing dish? ... We, too, can push back and engage in seeking authentic, calm, and refreshing nourishment for our soul--each one of us, of course, with our own flair" (7, 8).

My initial reaction to the look of the book has fully turned on itself, too. Like a simple but carefully assembled meal, it is organized and beautiful but not distracting from the content. Swaths of watercolor highlight specific prayer ideas, while brief shifts in typeface and color draw attention to particular moments without overdoing it. (My only real issue is that a font color frequently used is a soft golden yellow on white paper, difficult to see even with my reasonably unaged eyes. Possibly purposeful, meaning to slow you down to notice, but potentially problematic for some readers.)

With a brief intro on how he came to ponder and experiment in prayer so much, and a closing couple chapters on using these practices even when rushed, and bringing them into a group ("Eating on the Run" and "Dining with Friends," of course), the majority of the book is organized by "courses" or types of prayer. Some are old standards, others equally established but less commonly practiced, but for all Brazzeal makes a solid case for the purpose and use of each. The weakest chapters--Confessing and Asking--are understandably so. Confession is a complicated thing to get into, especially trying to be as open to a potential reader as possible; Asking is, as he points out, what most people think of first when it comes to prayer, but his downplayi of it comes off a little too strong--just because it's an automatic response doesn't make it a bad one. But while the finer points of our theologies differ occasionally, it's never off-putting--his ideas, like good recipes, are made to be adapted.

As I was thinking on this review, I could see two potential non-ideal reactions from a reader, both of which I started to have as I read:
   1) This Is Too Much. In the same way that few of us have time to prepare a seven-course meal every day for our loved ones, who has the time and energy for all of this? While Brazzeal hints at this, I wish he was a little more blunt with it in both introduction and epilogue: to continue the metaphor, no, you rarely make a seven-course meal. But, in an effort to keep things interesting, to learn and stretch and experience, you might have soup and a sandwich one night, a salad the next, steak and potatoes and pie after that. You do a little of this and a little of that. You have your favorites, and you have those that you don't always like, but you explore every once in a while just to play. You try something new with an open mind. You vary.
   2) This Is a Bunch of Eastern Religion Hippie Dippie Hoohah. With chapters like Observing (primarily but not exclusively nature) and Meditating, I found myself starting to have a predictably American Christian reaction of "ehhhhhhh this doesn't feel like me." Here, Brazzeal does confront the issue head-on, and well. He gives brief examples of meditation from Scripture, and points out that "meditation is a spiritual human activity like mourning, fasting, or praying, and is not limited to one religious group while remaining unavailable to others" (103). Well done, well said.

I'm looking forward to keeping Pray Like a Gourmet on my night stand with my prayer journal. And turning to it frequently to stretch myself, to find new ways of communing with my God, since, as Brazzeal speaks for Him in his intro, "Wasn't this supposed to be a relationship, just you and me--not a group project?" (13). I look forward to using it to break me out of the routine, to step up and sit down at the table with my God and snack, share, feast.

I'll wrap up with a blessing of sorts, from me and from David:
"I highly encourage you to experiment and find out what works for you, but also to leave your comfort zone, to be open to trying things you never thought you were good at or even associated with prayer before" (40).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through  the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Fedral Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Book Review: Abandon

I have very mixed feelings writing this review. Its official rating from me on GoodReads and Amazon will be 2 out of 5, though it's really more like a 2.8 (but no, that doesn't round up). I have no doubts that Tim's heart is in the right place, and that he means very well, and that this is only a beginning step in all he has been gifted to share, but Abandon falls just enough short that I can't roll that into a it's-the-thought-that-counts kind of review.

Abandon: Laying Aside Your Plan for God's Purpose is meant to be a primer for stepping out into full faith, leaving behind worldly and selfish plans and walking into the mystery God has in store for your life, whatever that may turn out to mean. While it's not a new concept for a book, there's nothing wrong with new voices for new generations--there wasn't actually much revolutionary in Blue Like Jazz when we read it ten years ago, but it was someone speaking these things for us, for my generation, and there is real value to that. But what opens with solid points and minimal distractions begins to slump, and by the last few chapters my margin notes included "What is the purpose of this?" and "No idea why this chapter is in here."

The most frustrating angle of this is Tim has the bones of a really solid book here. He makes some nice points in his first chapters about stepping away from formulaic religion and lip service, but [similar to my last reviewed book, The Esther Blessing] the problems come with tying in the story of Jacob. While there are a handful of solid connections between Jacob's story and where Tim's going, it's not enough to keep us bouncing back and forth, and ends up being a stumbling block. 

Amid, and gradually outpacing, Tim's strong points are distractions and issues:
- Brevity can be a strength, but here it comes off as rushed, as nearly an outline with a plan to return and fill in the gaps later. My paperback clocks at 172 pages, but the word count would reveal it to be much shorter, between large type, heavy spacing, frequent bullets, and nearly-every-page callouts (a tweetable quote from the page, complete with #Abandon).
- There's a consistent feel of being hurried, like Tim only had so much paper on which to write: "I've taken the time to list a few [ideas on prayer] that stick out to me" introduces a page and a half...on the Lord's prayer (114-116); after giving two examples for a point, "I could continue with this list for a long time but I won't. I think the point has been made" (121). This isn't helped by the frequency of typos, including in one of the tweetable callouts, p. 82.
- Audience questions: most of the time, Tim sticks to the pretty standard examples of sacrifice and fear: money (job/house/possessions) and marriage. This is fine, but personalizing and getting specific can do a lot. There are also some weird moments that beg the question, Who is your audience? "You're scared you won't be able to live on a five-figure instead of a six-figure salary" (54). ...I've never met these people you're talking to, Tim.

Overall, the book is more disorganized than problematic. While there are many books I'd point to before this one, I wouldn't pull it from someone's hands. That said, when dealing with an entry-level book like this, odd phrasing and throwaway sentences can find places to burn and breed in a new or reignited believer's head. One example: "The time is right to stop listening to the if onlys and start understanding that God has made many difficult sacrifices to give you your unique identity" (45). A hang-up many of us work through in our early years as a Christian is clarifying the God-as-parent metaphor, separating the inevitable human brokenness of our parents from His perfection. But here, Tim doesn't seems to be detailing God as sacrificing himself for love, but as a guilt trip. [Frustration point: On the very next page, a very well-done clarification on giving up your life.]

The marketing copy and front blurbs clearly set this as a book that will provide easy steps to follow to find "your secret to living the life beyond your wildest dreams!" (back cover). In Tim's efforts to tie in his life experience, the story of Jacob, and some generic "this is what you need to do" language, he gets lost somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, Abandon suffers too much from these hang-ups and stumbles shy of being what it could.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Monday, July 27, 2015

but we are climbers & lovers of heights

I wrote this several months ago, and it's lived quietly on my iPad ever since. I keep thinking that I've posted it already, and then I keep not. But I decided today's the day. It's written with a friend in mind, though it's as much about me, about my LPSP05 team, about anyone. 

She says she feels guilty
standing still as the solid Texas ground shifts, 
as devastating to her as tectonics, 
as gravity, blood.

In school, she mastered her language
while theirs was elective, worth losing.

But worlds change inside lifetimes
and now she feels the guilt 
of ignorance at the grocery store, the gas pump, church.

Words are mountains. We exalted them
when we met, sharing books like cake,
swiping poetry with gooey fingers and sighing through closed eyes.
But words are mountains, impassable and hard and 
one step at a time, because they are there.

I should have stopped her, should have asked 
What word of theirs 
do you love, when it stops being noise 
and turns into music?

Because there's a song I hum to myself, full of words 
I infer but don't know and refuse to look up:
descanso, confio, m'esperanza, fidelidad.
Standing in that room with dozens of voices, 
I first heard the musical mystery in illiteracy.
It's where I learned the lesson:
words are mountains,

but we are climbers and lovers of heights. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Over My Head: Introducing Junior

I don't know how often I'll write an Over My Head piece. It's taken me three weeks to work out this one. But as I process and struggle and find Jesus's perfect peace through this, I want a place for me to write out the thing, to nail it to a tree for anyone else to find hope in. I don't ask you to pass this along as a blanket prayer request for healing; I hope it will serve as an instigator for you, and for those around you. What is God calling you to? What waves are you afraid even to watch? What might we see if we did?

I thought the big news story of my year would be the church change I've mentioned before. I thought, looking back on 2015, that March would be where everything shifted over, and the rest of the year would prove to be buildup and denouement. As has always been the case, Chandra should not pursue a career in palm reading or tarot cards, because she is totally terrible at this predicting the future thing.

On July 7, I'd been reading and journaling before bed. Caught up with a new song I'd stumbled on, I wrote out lyrics in green marker in my prayer journal:
Come and do whatever You want to.
Further and further, my heart moves away from the shore.
Whatever it looks like, whatever may come
I am Yours.
Whether I sink, whether I swim,
It makes no difference when
I'm beautifully in over my head.

Some local friends and I joke that you should be careful what you pray for, because God listens and loves to show off.

I finished writing, and I turned off the light, and as I rolled over the world slowed down. Even in the dark, things were too loud, too bright, too much. The closest to this experience I've had in the past was over a thoroughly spiritual thing, and so I lay quietly and breathed the name of Jesus until I felt it pass, and fell asleep.

The next day, this episode forgotten in a rush out the door after oversleeping my alarm, I used my lunch break to head to my friend Wanda's for a hair appointment. I sat down in the chair, pulled the photo up on my phone of what I wanted for a cut, and felt it again: the slowing down, the overmuchness of everything. As Wanda came over, she could see something was wrong, and my efforts to speak gradually became a knowing that the words were sitting in the back of my brain but were unable to find my tongue.

This is the last thing I knew until I gradually came to my senses in the ER, repeating to my dear local family, "It's been a really weird day." (I remember saying this about three times. Tim assures me it was five times that.)

I don't remember starting to seize in Wanda's chair. I don't remember her holding me down and calling for an ambulance. I don't remember chewing on my tongue, though it was hard to swallow for a couple days for its swelling. I only vaguely remember the adhesive pads for the EKG, but I remember the nurse smiling and saying, "Your heart works great, so there's some good news." I remember texting various friends and family, but a day or two later I would read those texts and not remember choosing those words (and, in some cases, I'd be mildly appalled by them).

I remember being taken in for the CT and then the MRI, but most clearly I remember the young, friendly doctor walking in with papers in his hands. "You see this little circle?" he asked in a harmless voice. "That's your brain tumor."

I think he left after that. In any case, I don't remember anything until my surgeon--this man I would come to know as my surgeon, my neurosurgeon, because I need one of those now--came in the room, his scrubs wrinkled and his hair wild from the recent removal of a cap. He spoke with authority and kindness, and humor, of all things. Wonderful soothing humor. And he said some words, and then frowned a little, and drew his finger across the paper, two inches out from what the first doctor had pointed to. "No, this. This is your tumor."

Since then, there have been days of processing, of cycling through, at a guess, 20% of the emotions that will hit me sometime in the next few months. There have been daily meds, and a consult, and scheduling a second MRI and a biopsy. There has also been a cross-country trip to our largest show, and getting angrier at St. Louis humidity than unscheduled cranial growths, and MamaLowe hugs and college roommate visits, and a Facebook purge, and a thousand conversations with dear friends and awkward acquaintances and everyone in between involving words I've never used seriously:
Seizure. Tumor. Cancer. Chemo. Radiation.

That's about the end of the clinical stuff. I know you have a friend who went through this, but I don't actually need to know their experience. I know you want to know all the details, but I don't have that many yet and I don't need to share all that I do have. I know we've all seen too many Grey's Anatomy episodes, but I don't actually want Patrick Dempsey for a second opinion. It's weird, it's crazy, this is not how I planned my summer, but this was never outside the reach of God.

I wasn't in Maine last weekend, but at the urging of a friend I listened to my pastor's sermon via podcast when I got home, and Jesus and I had a good cry during and after. (You can listen to Eric preach here.) The sermon was on one of my favorite moments in the gospels: the boys are stuck in a boat in a crazy storm, and from out of the dark, the Savior of the World comes climbing up the waves. Eric spoke not of some over-shiny, unrealistic leaping for joy in a storm, but of keeping your eyes open for what you've never known. A day later, Kelly Minter (thoroughly unrelatedly) commented on Facebook, "When in the boat, Peter hears from John, 'It is the Lord,' and hurls himself into the water to swim to Jesus. That sums up the gospel for me." (Peter's plan was to swim--something he likely couldn't do, or couldn't do well. Instead, he walked.) This is my prayer for this process, this storm: Not blanket healing--I wouldn't pass it up, but I just don't feel like that's what's coming--but God being glorified in me, and by me, so others would know Him more. So I would know Him deeper. So I would be in over my head.

One last piece: Hospitality is my jam, and the other night I was reading a quick devotional because I was too tired for anything more. "Let brotherly love continue," says the writer of Hebrews, "Don't neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them..." (13:1-3). I share my fridge, my table, my couch. I spread board games across my living room floor and bring families spreads of food and send cards. But the root of hospitality is sharing life. Even when it's a mess, even when my emotions are going sixteen directions and chemo has worn me ragged and my hair is suffering from more than a cut. Even then, I share and give myself till I'm empty. Not out of obligation or guilt. Not because I'll feel better. But because there are angels to entertain, and there are prisoners out there, trapped in a life that doesn't let hope in through the bars.

To listen (and see all the lyrics) to Jenn Johnson's (Bethel's) "In Over My Head (Crash Over Me)," click here.
And as long as we're on the subject, this too. "So let go, my soul, and trust in Him: the waves and wind still know His Name."

My tumor's name is Junior because the first thing I heard in my scatterbrained head in the aftermath of scans and announcements was my brother's Schwarzenegger impression: "Id's nod a TOOMAH!" Except it is. And I thought it was from the movie Junior, and while it is in fact from Kindergarten Cop, it's far too late to rename him, so Junior stays. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Six Years Gone

I don't have another blog post about grief--I wrote one last year that I liked fine, and I find that I don't have much more to say. Six years gone, I still don't know if it's truthful to say I miss him--there are moments when I do, but they are very far apart. But six years ago tomorrow, I got a phone call telling me my father had died the day before.

A month later, at his memorial service, I fled from the surfeit of well-wishers--people who knew this man who seemed to share a great deal with the man I knew, but couldn't possibly be the same?--and scrawled out words to try and make sense of the emotional mess I was.

The following spring, on an impossibly bright sunshiny Vermont day, my brother stood by my side and we spoke words over stone. They weren't necessarily welcomed by all who stood there--stood apart, stood on the other side--but grief is a process and rarely a pretty one. The poem had taken a few small revisions, but largely remained the thing I had carved out the previous summer.

And each year, this day or the next (the anniversary is a strange one--do you honor the day it happened or the day you found out?), I reread it, and maybe I'll stop when I stop loving it.

So here it is.

Grieving the Whole

Though in a crowd, I sit with silence
listening to strangers unwind memories, stories
of You I Don’t Know.
Later, one asks if I learned anything new about you
and I stumble not to say, “Everything,
but I think I already knew that.” I only smile. You see, still

my civility holds me back and stills
my tongue, giving me only clich├ęs and thank yous.
After years of bitten-back words, now I have only silence
to speak to. This You I Don’t Know
doesn’t deserve the fury that lingers in histories,
but if you don’t hear it, I have nothing

to say, nothing
to say it to. I have no
confidante for this aside, no eager stillness
expecting my words, no hushed-silent
audience waiting for this soliloquy. You
are gone, and that is a truth stronger than stories.

There was a time in our history
when I knew you as Daddy, when even in silence
I knew you as mine, as everything
you were meant to be. Would the friends of This You say you were still
that way? Would they describe to me a man who didn’t know
how to leave? Because you did--you

left. And the friends here know you only as The You
After Me. I am anecdotal, still
a footnote in your story.
You wanted better, I know--wanted this thing
that stood between, this unsteady silence
to come undone and disintegrate. I know

you wished it gone--the same way I know
it was immovable, a thing
impermeable to time or change. But I also know it is not a thing you
made. It is a thing as fragile, as fundamental as history,
a thing drawn out of missed phone calls and father’s days, fermented in stillness
and outlasting every You there is but this, the one who sits here with me and silence.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review: The Esther Blessing

I want to open with saying that I am sure that Deborah Brunt's heart is in the right place, that she feels strongly about communicating truth, and using Scripture to do it. I think having a conversation with her would be enormously encouraging and challenging. There are a handful of quotes and ideas from the book that I've really pondered on, and shared with others. But to say that her right heart and her ideas cohere into a solid book would be misleading at best.

The main crux of her book is that grace shares a similar cycle to that of water: flowing down (God empowering us), flowing out (us serving God & the world), and flowing up (our praising God). This is some solid stuff that bears digging into, and it's a good idea to pair it with a story like Esther. Unfortunately, the bricks of her argument are repeated, circled back to, and rephrased to the point of exhaustion. What starts off as a "what a great concept" feel in Chapter 3 becomes a "...didn't you tell me this already" by Chapter 9.

My chief issue with the book is, indeed, organizational, which is what makes this a hard review: much of the content is good, if sometimes a little oversimplified. But chapter to chapter, and sometimes even paragraph to paragraph, there are jarring shifts in tone, style, and content. On a similar note, there are some distracting consistency issues: for the whole of Chapter 2, we painstakingly walk through the first chapter and a half of Esther, focusing on parts of the story that don't seem to tie in to Brunt's larger points; later, in the whole of Chapter 7, there are two singular mentions of people in the Esther story. At times Esther is almost too central, at the sacrifice of Brunt's argument; at others, the only connection to Esther is the header of the page.

But again, apart from those larger issues, there was some good content here. Some of my particular high points:
   - in Chapter 1, a good unpacking of the Greek in Romans 5:20--this, in fact, was one of the best bits of the book, and by far the most worthwhile translation note. She delves into the Greek terms for what is typically translated as "abounded" or "increased" in regards to both sin and grace, which really opens that verse wide open. From there, she does some nice work confirming that grace is not an enabler of sin. "Grace never contributes to a holding pattern" (p 31-32*)
   - a few bits in Chapter 7: a nice aside about the frequent misunderstanding of Christian service: "you don't live by inhaling until you're 25 or so, and then exhaling until retirement... You live abundantly, you reign in life, as you inhale and exhale continuously" (p 281); a good mention of how mourning opens us up to God's communication; solid explanation of the difference between keeping/spending in the world vs. God's economy
   - in Chapter 9, some in-depth discussion of the importance of celebration in glorifying God

In addition to the organizational issues, there were a some occasional moments of concern for me, falling under two umbrellas:
    Misuse: Metaphor and comparison can be incredibly helpful when illuminating a principle or a Scripture, and occasionally Brunt does this quite well. There are, however, a few times when she misuses a comparison to the point of offense: the worst of it is in her introducing Haman into the Esther story, where she delves into the Newtown, CT, school shooting, speculating on what-ifs involving the shooter and how much worse it could have been. You're making reference to the violent deaths of twenty children and eight adults. You don't play the what-if game.
   Church Issues: Brunt makes a few mentions of leaving her denomination, and taking a seven-year fast (that apparently involved the breaking of most of her relationships?). This would be fine on its own, but there are clearly some issues she's still hanging on to, and have no place in a book. This includes some casual slams on her denomination's practices, and an awkwardly blaming story of a mission trip.

As she wraps up the book in her acknowledgments, Brunt says that while she pondered these things for two decades, "it took me a very short time to write this book" (p 520). That's exactly how this feels: in some ways, like this is her first draft, roughing out the things she wants to say with a stream-of-consciousness tone and a low filter. It feels like when something has snagged you, and you want to tell everyone you know, but you need to clean things up and get organized before the power with which it hit you can be transmitted to anyone else. It's left me disappointed: as I say, she has some good stuff in here, but it's too muddled up to do the work it should.

* A brief note about page numbers: using iBooks, the page number varies based on screen size, typeface, etc. This was based on my iPhone readout, which charts the book at 538 pages (official page count, according to GoodReads: 193). I've give chapter references to aid in citation.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Hard Learning

We are pressed together in this mass transit world, nomads in a city older than buses and trains. It has been a stressful week, and the cool, worn stone laid by men with lost names steadies me as the bustle turns to lullaby. I am nearly asleep when his voice distinguishes itself, and I listen long before I open my eyes.

What I couldn't hear was the way his mouth is pressing itself into shapes that don't come naturally, his brow scrunched with concentration. His command of my foreign language is solid, but the distance from his shores to mine still show themselves clearly. Where English demands a staccato T, his Asian tongue finds a softer W before struggling for a small D in there at the end. And he is reading out his name, letter by letter--a particularly cruel joke, these layers of language, especially over a cell phone. He reads it three times, and even with the assistance of his face there are a couple letters I'm not sure of. I balance whether to offer help--is it still help if it takes his dignity as payment?--but my New England social walls stand firm.

I remember learning the alphabet in French--ah, bey, cey--and wondering at this refraction of English, or rather sister-refraction to something older still. Even that sister-tongue was too much for me, and after a few years of tests and one trip to the country I refracted, myself, spinning hard into this language I was born to, admiring others from a cold and comfortable distance.

I have never needed to know someone else's words. I've picked up a phrase here and there--I can apologize and order a street hot dog in Castellano, can pepper my speech with French tones, can make an occasional German outcry--but these have all been casual, friendly, uncritical. I know nothing of women fleeing war and rape, coming to cold New England cities with their walled-in people. I know nothing of college boys crossing half the planet for education and career. Even in Houston and Salt Lake City this spring, I went nowhere without my iPhone in hand.

My best friend calls me an intellectual snob, and this is true: I like knowing things, and I like demonstrating that I know them. I like learning new things from you--but partially so that I can demonstrate knowing them later. (It occurs to me, I may be a minor comic book villain: Dr. Thesaurus, ABD, perhaps.) And so I spun hard into an English degree, learning grammar and linguistics and Shakespeare, learning to say "kuh-neef-eh" when reading Chaucer (a world when you used every letter and none were silent), learning the rhythm and form of sestinas and sonnets, learning how this (every) language is a breathing, shifting, living thing: that my grandmother's English died before she did, and that I will live to see "whom" become archaic, and have already seen "new-ku-ler" be an accepted pronunciation.

And it comes back to the boy in the bus station, to the woman in the grocery store line. It comes back to what I do as they force my words out of them. And in the wondering, a memory from fifteen years ago slams into me, resounding like a gong. So clearly, I can see the ancient woman in Arles, running her little shop of cookbooks and wooden kitchen tools. In Paris, every native had cut us off with, "English, please," with an eye roll. But this woman--the wood witch from any fairy tale you can name--clasped her hands and leaned forward. She had none of my language, and so she waited with eagerness, nodding enthusiastically at each successful (though butchered) word. I don't remember our words, but our conversation is clear in my head, where the refractions play themselves out: She did know the fish soup from the restaurant last night. This cookbook, here. No, no charge. Take it. Make soup. Remember your night in Arles. I don't remember the cookbook, or the soup. But a lifetime later, I remember her.

In there somewhere is why this learning, this ever-trying-to-know-more is good to be applied here, in the devotion to something that will never be stagnant and finished, where there will always be someone learning. I hope I am a good teacher, and student: one who remembers the hard learning, and doesn't become my grandmother, insisting that being right is better than being understood.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Blog in Three Parts

My iPhone has proved helpful in a great many ways, but toward the top of the list is its allowance to write when I have no pen, when I barely have time. Mostly, when I am squelched into a seat designed to hold a 7-year-old child comfortably, surfing over clouds and miles of open air.

Unfortunately, those snippets of writing end up sitting on my phone forever, going nowhere, feeling unloved. So today, they get their moment in the sun--err, on the blog. The "suffered a loss" one is from Thanksgiving 2013--I remember clearly stewing in O'Hare, waiting for my connection to Iowa;  "And here again" would have been around that same time, shortly after hearing some of our authors talk about hyphenating adjectives; and using context clues, I think "To sit up here" was from last April or May, one of my flights to/from New Orleans.


To sit up here above the clouds, clenched and white-knuckled, is as foreign to me as not enjoying cheese.

With half a handful of exceptions, this is the most restful, peaceful state I have: a row of seats to myself, a window revealing a geometry of landscape edged by puffs of cloud. A literal and imagined removal from earth, and every care that goes with it. Even a depressed mind or a broken heart seems partially numbed this skyward--the extra oxygen in the cabin, or just the childlike understanding that the pressing, breaking agents have been left miles below.

I flew as a child, before my father left, before we would trade four airfares for a double-double at the Motel 6 outside Toledo. I flew this banner proudly as a teenager, when my wealthier friends would disbelieve my chronic earthboundness. I would insist that I had flown... I just didn't remember it.

A short trip to Dad's at 15, across the Atlantic at 17, and to Alaska at 18. Those were the first trips. Even then, I don't remember fear. The flight to Maine, I don't think I did anything but press my face and fingertips to the window, and there are still trips like that: crossing the full-moon-bathed Rockies, or last year's Vegas-Denver connection where twilit landscape seemed straight out of a NASA transmission.

This trip I've spent reading, but with the book propped to the window to allow for seeing what lies beyond. I remember, as they fall below, the strange linear hills of western Virginia and Tennessee, and my book falls for minutes--10? 20?--on end while I gaze out.

Some turbulence shakes the plane. The pilot comes over the speakers, but there is still no fear up here--it, too, was left down on the tarmac, too sloughing to keep up when the engines roar and we are pressed backward and lifted up into sky.

This is where I write most predictably, too. Even when I have nothing to say. Down there at home, with ergonomic laptops and comfy couches, I cannot be bothered; but even crunched diagonally across the seat, the iPad propped on a crookedly-crossed leg, I type even when words fail me. Somehow, unsurprisingly, that part of me is most buoyant, and once so much else falls with gravity, it floats.


And here again Your truth settles over me. No metaphor fits it, much as I search it out. It is not my mother's voice, long-memorized and watermarked with tears; it is not the rain, soaking but brief; it is not an old familiar song coming to me unwarranted and incomplete.

It is not my view from this plane--how Portland was in one moment shrouded and dark with fog, in the next, lost in white-gray, and in the next obliterated with blue sunlight refracting off pristine cloud. It is not this, but it is something in its direction, something coming to me as a thing unmoving, ever-present, that I re-find and treat as newly-arrived. That You have been the Love that Would Not Leave, that You have never known failure, that even in the face of my long absences, my infidelities, my faithlessness, You will not be undermined. You remain--not passively, not out of size or weight; and not out of duty or stubbornness. You could leave--it is not impossible, and is certainly not unjust.

But You choose to sit here with me. To listen to me mouth words I do not live and scarcely understand, to watch me cry and fume at enemies real and imagined, to wait for me to remember. To lift my head from my own shrouded world, to raise my shoulders through white-gray unknown, to seek out the blinding, obliterating oneness of You, this truth that radiates and refracts off each thing--the good and the hard, the buoying and the breaking.

You don't break me for breaking's sake. You do not hope to see me like this, busted and leaking on the floor. But You will have me, come what may, and every time I'm given the chance I'm clinging to every other thing but You. Even good things. Beautiful, holy, You-given things--I kill these things by turning them into false Yous. And joy turns to ashes.

So here I am, breaking again. I have gripped too hard, and You have given me time and a thousand chances to let go, but I have had none of it. You did not come to wound and destroy, but to seek and save--not only what is lost, but what continues to lose herself in every thing she can find until she finds herself broken by it, desperate for something higher, truer, still. And here again, Your truth settles over me--like cloud, and nothing like cloud. Like warmth and soothing coolness, like the surprise of familiarity, like the roaring stillness of refracted blue-white sky.


I have suffered a loss--a small one, and the pain will be faded to gray before the day is over, but for now it still smarts. I had had hours to lose that day, but spent pieces of a few of them carving words into something better than reality--because at a hard glance, reality was not much to remark on: airport, crowds, noise.

But I had worked words, choosing and removing and shoving them into place, my best attempts at pottery. (How I love that the verb is "throw"--because that's so much of writing, throwing things out across a page like flour, like Legos, and seeing how they want to come together.)

Now all I have are snippets: something about the cold Midwestern wind seeping through glass, something about a woman's smile and insistence as she thanked a maintenance man, something about us hunching ourselves and choosing against the drift of cold and isolation. It was art, or something approaching it, and now it is a vaporous thing I can't quite hold, with no memory of the file in this machine.

It is a small loss--so tiny a thing that a few paragraphs seem too much to give in mourning--but it was mine and now it's gone and no one asked permission. Like other small losses, it will be forgotten, the place it held taken up by the grocery list or the email I need to send on Monday--but for just a few minutes, the silence aches where words should have been.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Notes on Leaving

I tend to make decisions for people. I'm not pushy, so I don't tell them the decisions I've made for them, but I do it internally. I've done this for years, and I am nearly always wrong--not just mildly off the mark but do-you-even-speak-human kind of wrong--and you would think that might curb me but like most addictions, it only grows easier.

After months of unrest, and months of feeling unsettled, and months of waiting out silence, God started to clarify some things for me late last fall--very quickly, and very clearly. And taking very small steps, each one weighed and confirmed with Him as best as I know how, I stepped out into this new thing, this massive change in my life. For reasons that are His own, He's called me away from my church of eight years. When left to my own devices I am a list-maker, a score-keeper, a grudge-holder, and so it feels very strange to give only one (seemingly small) answer to such a big why:

Because He told me.

I've witnessed other people make a similar change, and have seen the effects and aftershocks, and so early on I started deciding how people would take it. I steeled myself for arguments and criticism, for gossip and rumor, for silence. I was sure there would be some who would take it well, with grace and understanding, but I was certain I would be fighting for these last two months since I started telling people.*

And, to be honest, there have been a small handful of weird moments, strange words, puzzling reactions. More than once I have gritted my teeth, pressed my mouth closed, and taken my sadness and confusion to Jesus. He handles it so much better than I do, and when I hand it to Him, He doesn't give it back.

But the overwhelming story of the last two months is marked by surprise, and joy, and peace. I spoke words into a phone out of necessity--I hate phones--and waited for my dear friend to ask questions. "I just looked over at you in the pew last week," she said, "and I had this certainty that one of these days I would look over there and you would be gone." I spoke words into a dark car and heard only a sigh from the driver's seat. "Can you tell me how He told you?" she asked, "Because I feel like He's not talking to me right now." I spoke words to a dear couple, and they replied in love and commitment and devotion: "We'll miss you, but this next church must need you so badly." I texted words--too late, after the fact, frustrated at myself--and got back, "I appreciate you telling me. How are you feeling?"

And today I was trying to fend off what I was sure would be awkwardness via Facebook (honestly, the worst for this sort of thing), and received a message back full of love and grace: "I love you and I will miss you. However let me tell you that following God's leading is all I needed to hear." She went on to speak of the legacy I'm leaving and how I made a difference for her, and how she's stepping out in trust. She's twice my age and has loved Jesus for longer than I've been breathing, and she thanked me for speaking into her life.

I have been so overwhelmed with this. The sense of peace and confirmation I had, in the beginning only from God, has been echoed and harmonized by acquaintances and dear friends and I am at a loss for words. And this is saying something--it's me we're talking about. What was a gut-wrenching struggle has become a place of peace and easiness. He has truly traded my ashes for beauty, brought me to dancing instead of mourning. He is so appallingly faithful to such a screw-up as myself. It is utterly humbling, and totally empowering, and I cannot even deal.

One friend asked about the timing, asked why I wasn't at least going to stay for Easter. But if Easter is about anything at all, it is about becoming a new thing, about walking through a torn veil, about being born over and over again, every morning a new creation. While it was incidental in the timeframe that seamlessly revealed itself, it feels fitting to commence this new season of looking for my new place, my new calling, with the day when we celebrate and rejoice--again, again, again--in the new, the changed, the remade.

If you have been one who's showered me with love and grace in these last months, I thank you so very much, past words. If you have been one who felt awkward, sad, strange, betrayed, upset, angry, please hear that I understand, and I am sorry, but not sorry enough to go against the will of my God. A sweet friend hugged me a week after I'd told her, and whispered, "My vote is still against this, you know." I smiled and told her that was fine, as long as she understood that neither she nor I got a vote. His say trumpets over every pro and every con, His voice drowns out every other including my own.

Thank you.

"I can say goodbye, can leave these days behind
for I know my Shepherd will lead me to life.
And I will not be satisfied 'til I'm before His throne:
I've loved it here, but this is not my home."

* A quick note on my telling people: Here, again, God allowed some opportunities and didn't allow others, and I have relied on that. It was physically impossible to individually tell all hundred-plus people I've shared life with at SPCN, and so if this is how you're finding out I'm truly, truly sorry. Please understand it's not that you didn't make the cut of Important People. It's not that I didn't care. It's just that I needed to live life outside and through this decision, and that meant that not everyone found out as I would have liked: from my mouth, eye-to-eye, over a quiet table at Cookie Jar with cups of coffee and half-pound Boston Creams.**

**A second quick note: No one found out over Cookie Jar Boston Creams. Weird how life works.

And finally, a quick postscript:
I've disabled comments on this post. Please don't take that to mean I don't want to hear from you. Only that this process has highlighted for me the value of what is done personally versus what is seen and said publicly. Any comments or questions you have, I welcome--please call me, email me, text me, write me, see me. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Giving It Words

it's this: the way it falls within a different gravity
and creates a world that isn't ours but should be
      --or shouldn't be ours but is?
I'm not sure, maybe both

the way it makes everything a new thing

how it accumulates
without notice but changes landscapes

when it lands imperceptibly,
sitting in miniature drifts on shoulders,
melts with me as I stamp into safety inside

it tumbles and piles and
falls and fails--
one more way to nearly but not quite
put words to truth
like scaffolds to a cathedral,
one more failing metaphor for you

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Thousand Resolutions

I've purposefully waited a few extra days to write this, as we all know how I usually rant about resolutions. I've been on the fence this year, as a fairly major life change is shifting through the works and that takes precedence over the numbers on the calendar anyway. But what began accidentally--a few days before the New Year, in fact--has now sifted into a purposeful idea I keep in my head.

It's not about setting rules. I much prefer sticking with the idea of "resolve," because there is, to me, an allowance of flexibility and life in that word. I resolve to do some things more, some things less. No numbers, no never, no always. It's about that space for allowance, that wide acreage between "I wish that this was more true of me," and, "&!@%*# YOU'RE DOING IT AGAIN!!!"

It's about interrelating ideas, not over-complicating. It's hard to distinguish my specific resolutions because they blend and dovetail together. As I cut down on this, I use that time to increase that. I can't only empty out--I have to fill back in. I can't pile on without organizing and cementing the base.

It's about layers of grace, grace piled thick like layers of a cake, like the cottons and wools I wrap and bind to safeguard myself from sub-zero winds. "From His fullness," my phone's lock screen reminds me, "we have all received grace upon grace" (John 1:16--lock screen courtesy to the lovely people at She Reads Truth). Layers of grace means that if I slip too far from my resolvedness, there are more layers to catch me. (If my scarf comes undone, my coat remains. I don't catch too cold, but I'm also reminded to secure the layers.)

Now, "a thousand" is hyperbole. Maybe, once we've settled into this year, there would be eight or a dozen or seventeen. But I like the word thousand--I like that it's a necessarily imaginable number (none of us can grasp a million, but a hundred could be held in your hands). I like how it rolls out of my mouth. I like that it's promise and poetry more than a set plan.

Most of my resolutions float around simplifying my life, about culling down to what is core and important, and then giving those things adequate space and breath. I am a terrible gardener, but the metaphor is solid: pruning and weeding and replanting; watering and nurturing; enjoying and harvesting. And most of my little resolutions have settled themselves under one (or three) banners:

Spend time well (and kill it less).
     NOT "don't do _____ anymore," "you must _____ for X minutes a day," etc.
My days are numbered out, even if I don't know the details. Time is a gift, a precious commodity, and how can I complain of a lack of it when I misspend it so well? That said, there's a place for relaxing, for staring at the ceiling, for having a Dennis Quaid movie marathon with a friend. But to treat time as though it has worth--because it does--is how most every other resolution began.
Resolutions: I took Facebook off my phone and iPad--no more scrolling through the newsfeed for lack of anything else to do. I've set rough bedtimes for myself, even on the weekends--this 31-year-old body needs more rest than she used to, if she's going to use her waking hours well.

Live like I love the things I love.
   NOT "Thou shalt blog everyday," "You can't go to bed until you ______," etc.
I call myself a writer, I call myself a lover of stories, I call myself a lover of friends and food (all the more when served together). Now, of course, regular boring non-passionate life demands have their place, but what about the rest of those spaces--the moments of telling myself to push back the covers? the few minutes while waiting for the bus? that spare weekend with no plans? Of course I could watch another episode of that show I don't really care about... or I could read another 2% of this novel, or invite that abandoned friend over for dinner, or actually put all those words roaming around my brain to paper and see if they mean something.
Resolutions: I've set fun little challenges for myself--staying away from hard rules, but more like games between myself and I: how many checks can I put to this reading checklist this year? how many notes can I send to people I love? what new thing can I learn to prepare in my kitchen?

Treat Jesus like someone I like.
   NOT "Read the Bible in a year," "Figure out your five-year spiritual plan," etc.
(That first "not" is a little friendly jab at myself, as that was a goal not so long ago. I read it once in five years, and again in 18 months, and as last year wrapped up I prepared to read it in a year, for real this time. "To prove what?" asked something deep in me.)
After a VERY long desert season, I am digging my toes through thick grass and splashing in clear pools, in a manner of speaking. When you seek Him, you find Him, and that is a fact. As I set aside the goals that were about my abilities and smarts and fake religion, the reality and simplicity of Just Spending Time with This Savior I Love but Also Like settled in on me like a quilt. I'm in the Word everyday, but differently--sometimes just soaking in one phrase of one verse, sometimes swallowing passages whole like pudding. But more than that, I'm enjoying it. It's become about hanging out with Jesus, not racing through to be done and move on to something else.
Resolutions: This will shift as we go, I think, but right now I'm doing two sets of devotion-y things: one that suits my head-knowledge self, digging in and understanding new things; one that is simple and short, but nearly daily snags me with life-shifting Truth. I'm praying--on paper, audibly, with people--more, and more specifically, and more purposefully, and with more confidence in its use.

All of these, at the end of the day, are about gradual shift instead of break-neck change. I'm massively cutting down on the time I spend on Facebook, but I'm not avoiding it like the plague. I'm reading more, but Parks & Rec's last season will not be back-burnered. I'm writing more, but I don't know if that will translate to more bloggery or not. Grace upon grace means that if I'm just feeling like flopping down with Addie for a while, that's okay. If I was busy riding around with my dear friend while we dropped her teenagers in their various locations, that's okay. Grace upon grace, because life can't be rules. Grace upon grace, because I am a promise-breaker, unfaithful as Gomer*. Grace upon grace, because "even if we are faithless, He remains faithful" (2 Timothy 2:13). Grace upon grace.

* One of my favorite Bible passages is an unconventional one at best. Meant as a metaphor of God's relentless faithfulness and our ridiculous ability to walk away, a prophet, Hosea, marries and has children with an active prostitute, Gomer. It's, at times, not a pleasant read--but neither is the book of my history. And, like my own story, it is laced with gorgeous, poetic truth about a Lover-God who fights for us, who will use anything to bring our attention to where it belongs and to bring us back home to Him. " 'I will betroth you to me forever,'" he promises in Hosea's second chapter. " 'I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord" (vv. 19-20).