Questionable Magic

questionable magic

I can decide who I am.
And I can decide who I am not.
But I can’t decide who others think I am.

And that is a difficult part of life.
Because who I am to myself and who I am
to everyone else
is rarely the same person.

And how does that make sense?
How is one person
many
in the face of the whole world?

This is no swan song pronouncement.
This is the point of all my songs:
How do I decide who I am when
every person in the world is telling me something
different?

How do I decide who I am not
when the very fibers of my heart
spin outward,
opposite heartstrings
tugging east and west,
driving me toward sun and moon and stars?

Because this is the story I thought I would’ve told by now.
That girl, fourteen,
discovering that her voice makes other people feel things –

That girl made a decision to bear her soul
to a world that called her
too many names.
She decided that who she was
was a poet and a thinker.
A storyteller
and a magician;
a weaver of invisible abstractions,
of threads too thin for others to slip through a needle.

She made a decision to start a tapestry
that even she couldn’t imagine.

And I think she discovered,
year after year,
poem after poem,
night after night of spinning thoughts into words
and words into stories
and stories into golden patchwork quilts fit for queens and paupers –

I think she discovered that she still never got a grasp on her own soul.
And maybe that she never would.
And maybe that she never wanted to.

Every moment spent trying to be somebody
for somebody else,
till she was telling the stories so loudly and so boldly that
maybe
she lost herself.

Without
realizing it.

Is that how it happens?
Do you become the person you are
without deciding to become the person
you are?
Is that how it was supposed to happen?

Do we write ourselves into our own stories?

Do I let every poem end unresolved
because mysteries are all that girl ever knew how to write?

She was a poet and a magician.

She thought so.

Did I make a decision
to make myself
unknowable
to my self?

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Storytelling

sunflower crowns

Are you telling the stories I gave to you?
It is a haunting and ever-present question,
buried deep in my heart and pounding the air around my ears –

Are you telling the stories I gave to you?

Does your heart open up,
do you bleed the words and the feelings and the
emptiness,
are you sure that this life is not lived
in silence?

And the fear comes here:
I have become so much and so little of myself in the past two months.
I am ten thousand miles into a journey
that is ten billion miles long,
my life a plain stretched wide across the canvas of
some great celestial painter.

I have lived so much life in the span of two
silent
months –
new job, new house, new life, new people, new ideas, new experiences, new
depths delved deep within.

My heart, harried and tired and raw like new skin,
beating a hundred different rhythms as it once again finds its own,
is bursting with stories that have only unfurled their
delicate
story
wings
before a few.

And that same question,
filled with the guilt and the grace of every god who has offered either:
Are you telling the stories I gave to you?

Because that’s the thing you don’t know about me,
that’s the kicker,
the punch,
the twist in the plot and the slash through the canvas –

There are too many gods asking me for my stories.

They beg of me:
Tell the world the story of the girl who lives to work, who dedicates herself to the job
that she is still making sense of.
Tell the world the story of the student who graduated from the place that taught her all at once
that faith can never be simple or difficult again.
Tell the world the story of the daughter who is struggling to make
her own home.
Tell the world the story of the girlfriend who so desperately longs for
he who makes her more herself.

Tell the world of the anxieties, the fear, the hope, the peace, the racing heart, the fumbling fingers,
the mind
always ten steps ahead
and ten leagues deeper than it should be.

And those gods,
who demand all my energy and my time,
self-created and inundating
my brain and my heart –
The gods who heave
blame and shovel
shame and take back all the

grace that is offered to me –

Those are the gods I deny my stories.

And now,
I will tell the one story that reaches,
words like spindly fingers
and words like sunflower crowns –

Reaches into the sky like bravery made solid:

Give me the breath again, my God who breathes,
to tell the story
that oxygenates all of me.

I am more
than I think I am.

To tread

cedarville

When I was a junior in high school, I got a Cedarville Admissions DVD in the mail. It was cool – the DVD was bendier than normal discs, so it would be safer while traveling in the mail.

I watched that DVD countless times. It gave me chills (it was marketed in such a way so as to give us chills, and I know that, but still) and my heart fluttered every time I watched it. I didn’t have a doubt that Cedarville was where God wanted me. I still don’t.

It was the only school I applied to and I was accepted by September of my senior year of high school. I had visited a few times, and each time it was as though I could sense God nodding at me.

Yes, Courtney. Go ahead and do this. I will breathe goodness and truth into your life over these years. I will be with you.

Over my last four years here, there were times when I was sure I had been defeated. Many days were spent neck-deep in anxiety over money, wondering if I would be able to finish. Then, God would show me His faithfulness.

And I’m graduating without ever having had to take time off because of money.

I can’t tell you how huge that is for me – to have made it, to have worked so hard and been so blessed with the family I have and the jobs I worked, to have been prayed for and encouraged. God taught me, many times, to make peace with the unknown. It is probably one of my most prominent weaknesses, and yet He has so lovingly and so grace-fully held my hand through it all. He is a God who stands with us in our weaknesses, never holding it against us when we fail to trust. He is a God with so much grace to give that even we, with all our failings, will never wear out His supply.

My time at Cedarville has taught me to think critically about what I believe – in perhaps different ways than one might expect. I have struggled with my faith in good and true and difficult ways, learned to embrace doubt and mystery and yet still to believe and to trust. I have learned that there are many things that are called Christian that I do not believe are consistent with the Way of Jesus. I have learned that I care deeply for the full equality and inclusion of women in church life – because I have seen and felt the tremors left by a segment of the Church who thinks differently than I do. I have discovered the true meaning of boldness: To be bold is not to preach at people, but to love them, sit with them, jump into hard discussions with them, and hear their own stories. It is to tell my own story truthfully. It is to hold hands with the ones around us and walk straight into the fog of life, heads held high. It is to affirm the unique gifts, callings, abilities, and voices of all people. It is to speak Truth, and do so with love. Only ever love.

I have found some of the truest, wisest, brightest, kindest, silliest, most loving friends in the world over these last few years. I’ve become friends with brilliant professors, been mentored by women and men I want to grow up to be like. I’ve had fights and arguments and I’ve listened to sermons that have made my blood boil. I have been challenged and mystified and humbled. I discovered my passions. I tried new things. I met my best friend and I love him to pieces.

My time at Cedarville has been four of the best years of my life. Four of the hardest, scariest, busiest, most stressful, best years of my life. If I could go back and redo it all, I wouldn’t change a thing. God has changed me in more ways than I could explain with words – more ways than I think I even know.

I first heard of the “Cedarville bubble” at the end of the Admissions DVD back in high school. A student who played guitar mentioned it. He said

Methinks hereafter to find myself a way to breach the bubble of Cedarville: to tread far and wide beyond the lake.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, because I didn’t yet know the impact Cedarville would have on me, in many ways. But it sounded pretty, and I liked to write down pretty words. So I wrote it on the first page of a notepad shaped like Belle’s dress from Beauty and the Beast. And I remember thinking to myself, this will mean something more one day.

Today, I know what it means. It means that now, I get to walk away. I get to carry all the joy and sorrow and freedom and stress and lessons and loves – I get to store it all away in my heart, take the good, make peace with the bad, and walk away from Cedarville. Prepared. Joyful. Whole. Fearless.

It’s easier said than done. But God has grace enough for us yet. He is faithful. We can trust Him.

The reconciliation of a wolf girl.

dark wolf

Today, one of my best friends called me and told me the thing I needed to hear:

It sucks that you didn’t get that job. You should have. It is okay to be upset about it.

My boyfriend texted me the thing I needed to hear:

It sucks that you didn’t get that job. I know you really wanted it. Don’t give up.

I am glad I have people like that in my life. Because it sucks. And I want to be upset. And I don’t want to give up.

I started searching for jobs in September. I was proactive: I met with career services, I started paying attention to my LinkedIn profile, I made dozens of copies of my resume, I wrote cover letters until my eyes crossed. I was light years ahead of my classmates. And that made me proud.

So when people ask me, two weeks before graduation, what are your plans? I tell them, I’ve had countless interviews, three rejections, and no offers. And then I stare at them, waiting for the words they’ll say next, the words that come from well-intentioned hearts, the words that everyone says, the words that I know, at my core, are probably true:

Oh, don’t worry. It’ll happen. You’re so amazing. It’s all in God’s hands. Trust God’s timing. God has something great planned.

And I think, yeah. That makes sense. That’s pretty easy to say. Because you’re employed. You have a place to live. You’ve done your time trusting.

As soon as I think it, I want to cringe. Because it sounds awful. It sounds faithless, angry, and envious. It sounds like someone who doesn’t deserve a job, or a plan, or a God who gives good things. It doesn’t sound like me.

But it’s what I feel sometimes. And I’m not sure how to reconcile it all – the things I feel with the things I know.

So I tell myself stories. I remind myself of the times I fell apart, the times I felt like dust. I tell the stories of the times God found me, when I was crouched crying on the floor of my bedroom, or driving too fast away from what made me angry, or lying in a field veiled in darkness, staring at stars and praying for time to stop.

The stories remind me that I am sometimes a faction warring against myself:

Look at all those times God plucked you from the ashes. Look how much of God’s time you’ve already used up. You deserve to wait and worry.

It is hard to silence a voice you’ve allowed to shout for so long.

When I was at camp, I used to hear this old story from a Native American tribe. A boy told his wise grandfather that sometimes he feels as though there are two wolves battling within him: a light wolf and a dark wolf. He asked his grandfather which wolf would win the battle.

The one you feed, said the grandfather.

I always thought the story was too simple. Surely life was not that easy – food is just one factor in a wolf’s strength. There were genetics, training, size – maybe it was inevitable that the light wolf lost. Maybe it was just too tired to keep fighting. Maybe the dark wolf was just too strong.

I do not want to let the dark wolf win my heart and strength away.

I am still learning how to believe in the simplicity of feeding the light wolf and trusting that it will win.

Perhaps the still learning is reconciliation enough, for now. I believe we have a God who allows us to lean into the still learning. So that’s what I’ll do, if I find it hard to say that I’m trusting, I’ll say that I’m leaning.

Leaning into the still learning. The still, quiet learning. The still, outstretched hand of a girl, holding food beneath the muzzle of a wolf who hasn’t truly eaten in a long time.

That will be my reconciliation, for now.