Galaxy Rest

galaxy rest

 

Go before me, like a forest dweller with a machete –
Carve a way in the wild.
Make a path for me in the brush of the shadow-life,

And when we reach the flower field on the other side,
Teach me the freedom of dropping the blade
and forgetting the battle.

Teach me to rest among the dandelions,
To fall asleep easy under the blue black
dotted with the light of galaxies that never burn out.

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Our dusty selves

 

dusty selves

 

Today is Ash Wednesday.

And I have no idea what is going on in my life.

And I wonder, sometimes, if maybe that is the point. I read a lenten devotional today, since today marks the first day of Lent. The author said that Lent was about stopping where we are. It’s about stopping, in the middle of where we were and where we think we need to be and being here. It’s about stopping and remembering our dusty selves – from dust, and to dust we shall return – remembering the two things we so desperately try to forget at every other buzzing, busy time: our sin and our humanity.

I read those words and they stopped me; they made me pause and stare and think – and I didn’t like it. Because it is exactly where I’m at right now. I might be here, but in my head, I am in a thousand different places. I have this personality that sometimes seems allergic to the present, forever lingering in what was and, lately, setting up camp in all the places I think I need to be running toward.

Believe me when I say it – there are so many places that I think I need to be right now. And if I am being honest with you, dear reader (which I am), then you must know this: I am so weary of all the places I think I need to be going to.

I am in this weird paradox: so intimately aware of my humanity and all the ways I fall short because of it, but so insistent on ignoring my humanity and just plowing through like I can do everything. It’s like I’m in an action film, and I’m the stubborn heroine who just got shot in the leg but insists it’s just a graze as I fling myself into battle once more. There. That makes it sound heroic. That makes it sound epic. Special. Like I care more about the people I’m battling for than my own single, solitary, bloody leg.

But I don’t think that’s how it goes. I’m not convinced that when Jesus stops us, when he slides in before us, as we run into the fray or shuffle into work or open up a new job application – that he only does it to cheer us on, to egg us forward, to commend our heroic and courageous deed.

I think maybe he’s trying to get us to stop.

Stop. Enough charging into this battle of your life. Enough seeing this life as your battle. You are dust, and to dust you will return. But in the meantime, you may rest.

And there, in the midst of it, his ashy thumb caresses my forehead and there is the cross.

Oh, it is so hard to stop. It is so hard even to pause, for the moments of daily communion, for the knowledge of the truth to sink into my bones: I do not have to win today. I don’t have to make a thousand decisions about my life, I don’t have to know what is happening and where I’m headed.

I’m weary of going places. I’m tired of battling. I’m tired of anxiety. I am tired of heroics.

Stop. Enough going places. Enough believing that you must always be going places and doing things and justifying your life for everyone around you. You are dust, and to dust you will return. But in the meantime, you may rest.

And there, in the midst of it, another ashy thumbprint swipes across my forehead and I am staring at my humanity and my failings and my fear and my worry and my spinning head and unknowable life.

It is here that I remember those Garden promises – the goodness of it all. The Way Things are Supposed to Be. I see the humanity – all the guilt and shame and baggage that comes along with it – and I remember that it was once Good. And this ashy cross, this paused Wednesday, everything it signifies is the way it’s all becoming Good Again.

Stop. Enough remembering the cross as the end. Enough wondering if this night will last forever. You are Good. You are becoming Good again. You are running toward the Garden – not a job or a marriage or a new city or an apartment or the fulfillment of some ideal life you’ve created. You are running through the ash and through the palms and through the open tomb and

You are running toward the Garden.

So breathe.

And there, in the midst of it, because that is where Jesus finds us, because that is where he is, because that is where our lives take us, because that is where it hurts, because that is where we’ve been shot, because that is where the battle rages, because that is where the sea is rising, because that is where your resume gets forgotten, because that is where your breath becomes erratic, because that is where you sink to the ground, because that is where we need him – one more ashy thumbprint cross to smooth out our furrowed brow.

Today is Ash Wednesday.

 

What I learned while waiting.

grandpa blog post

It was a year ago today that my Grandpa passed away.  I haven’t seen him whole and real since last August, so though it was only a year ago that he was here and then not, it feels like longer. He wasn’t himself for all those months that he was sick. And what I miss is his Self.  His laughing, smiling, slow-driving, made-up-language-speaking Self.

My dad drives Grandpa’s truck now, which is strange and practical and disorienting.  Since I don’t live at home anymore, every time I come home on break, I see the truck in the driveway, the truck that picked me up from band camp and brought me to middle-of-day doctor’s appointments. For a second, I think I’ll see him behind the wheel. It’s funny; my sister says sometimes she sees Dad driving it and he looks vaguely like Grandpa, hunched up behind the wheel.  My dad has been doing Grandpa-y things lately.  I like it.

We had my Grandpa’s memorial in July this year.  I read the piece I wrote last year after he died – it was so much fun to tell that story of him again.  I’m glad I got to do it, but to be honest, I wasn’t entirely excited about waiting until July to have his memorial.  I remember being upset about the waiting, upset that we weren’t going to end what felt like months of stress and grief and busy-ness at the time when they should end.

(Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I often feel like the shoulds of my life need to be the same as the shoulds in everyone else’s.  If something should happen a certain way for me, it should happen that way for everyone else.

I’m usually kind of short-sighted when it comes to my shoulds.)

In the end, it was good to wait to have the memorial, for practical reasons and for symbolic ones.  Practically, considering last winter, it was easier for everyone to get up the hill to the cemetery where we buried his ashes when there wasn’t three feet of snow on the ground.  Symbolically, it was beautiful, because summer personified my grandpa.  He was all sunshine and darkened skin and tattered summer tank tops.  He was more lawn mower than snow plow, more light breeze than stinging chill.

And the wait itself was good for us.  It gave people time to patch up a bit. For months, life had been hospitals and doctor’s visits and stark white walls and trips to Cleveland and where is the joy I thought this was Christmas?  It had taken three months for my grandparents to go from being well to one of them being sick enough for Hospice.  There needed to be time before putting a definitive end to all that.

I learned a lot about waiting last year, but I’ve only just begun to really think about it this year, during this Advent. Advent is about waiting – it is about joyful, patient, hope-filled waiting for the King, for the Immanuel.  Last year, I didn’t care much for Advent waiting.  The defiant optimism of Christmas, while in many ways welcome, comforting, peaceful, was also full of hurt and stress.  I don’t know how others in my family felt about it, but for me, it was like putting Neosporin on a fresh cut: It was meant to help. It was meant to heal. But all it did then was sting.

This year, I have been stoked for Christmas.  I have loved Advent, loved re-learning how to wait with joy.  Last year, I was waiting for death. And while I tried desperately last year to focus my attentions on the hope that Jesus brought, the sheer wonder and brilliance of God-with-us – I couldn’t unstick my mind from the waiting for something I dreaded happening.  It was hard for me to really understand what God had begun to try to teach me, ever so gently, so lovingly, as He does. This year, I’m beginning to see it.

There are two ways to wait for anything. We can wait with hope or with dread.  And maybe sometimes it’s both, because life is full of bad things – but life is more full of good things, of beautiful and awesome and magnificent things.  Jesus came here. He didn’t come as a pig for slaughter; he came to show us a life well-lived. A Full Human Life – that’s what we were waiting for. And that Human Life led to death, but not forever-death. There is no greater love than the love that lowers it’s head to the guillotine, that jumps in front of the gun, that crawls up on the altar itself, that gives up his life for his friends. That life was one spent loving the poor and the forgotten, raising up the oppressed, lifting the beggars and adulterers and lepers up from the dusty path and calling them blessed, wanted, chosen, remembered, precious. When we wait in Advent, we are waiting again for that Full Human Life, that life that saved us by dying and returning, that life that promised us that we would wait with dread no longer.

Wait with dread no longer.

Even for the bad things. Even when we are waiting for death, what we are really awaiting is new life, Full Human Life. We are awaiting a day when the people we love, and someday we ourselves, can step out of these shadows and figure out what it’s really like to live in the Light.

So, yes, today I am sad. Today, I miss my Grandpa a lot. But what I want, what I desperately want, is to remember how to wait with hope. To be sunshine and darkened skin and tattered summer tank tops in the midst of winter. To give myself and others time to heal. To anticipate the beautiful, the King, the Immanuel.

May my Advents be ones of hope.

For Elaine

Dear Elaine,

My darling, the world is so big for you.  I am so excited for you, and you are not even twenty-four hours old.  But, my love – my dear cousin, you are already destined for mighty things.  The God who knit you together did so with such care.  He spent millennia fashioning your precious soul.  Your toes and your lungs and your elbows consumed His thoughts for longer than we could imagine.  He has never and will never grow tired of you.  He longs for you to come to Him with all the musings, desires, and thoughts buried deep within you.  He will always hear you, no matter whether you sing or cry or scream or whisper or laugh or talk so quickly that no one else understands.  He will never grow weary of you.

My darling, our Papa is gentle and perfect.  He is on your side.  You can never go too far out of His arms that you can’t turn back.  He will always welcome you back.

This life you’ve tumbled into is not always simple.  Your path will be twisty at times.  You will scrape your knees and get headaches from too many tears.  Sometimes nights will feel endless here.  You will get scared, and probably sometimes you won’t understand even your own heart.  People will be mean to you, and you will be mean to people – even people you really, really love.  You will lose people who you don’t want to lose: this journey has many paths, and we do not all travel the same one at all times.  Those you love sometimes go one direction, and you will go someplace else.

But listen to me, my dear: this life is so, so glorious, too.  You will learn to run someday.  You will taste freedom and know joy.  You will laugh at goofy jokes and ridiculous movies and even yourself.  You will discover that which makes your heart beat a little faster – those passions created inside you may be many, and they may not make sense, but it is your job to notice what you love and decide to do something about it.  It might take lots of time.  That’s okay.  You have time.  You will find your people – the ones who get you, who anchor you.  And you will see the Father, even before you know Him by name.

Oh, dear heart, you will learn so much.  You will learn of forgiveness, that mysterious and holy gift.  You will learn of grace, an infinite wellspring in a dry-desert life.  And you will learn of love – so many loves, but each one an ultimate and divine expression of the very Essence of our Rescuer.

My love, you will be taken care of.  You have found your way into a good home in this world.  This is a family full of strange and beautiful love, and oh my goodness we can be an odd bunch.  But we fling our arms wide here.  So run into the house – make a mess, in any sense of the term, and allow your soul to be a little wild and unpredictable.

Do not forget that you are loved, supported, believed in, and valued.  I pray the great worth you have rings true within you every day of your time on this earth.  And I pray you live in the spirit of that worth.

I have run this race for only a short distance, but I have noticed this: this life is a grand adventure.  And I have not always lived it as such.  But you, my lovely cousin, were born at a time in my life when I came to yet another agreement with God.  I want more adventure, I told Him.  And in a tempest, in His infinite grace, He answered me: Yes, My child.  Your heart is ready now.

May you ask for the adventures sooner than I did.  And may you trust Him to make your heart ready, again and again and again.

With love always,

Courtney

September 12, 2014

Supporting.

My friends recently had a baby. And when I say recently, I mean a couple weeks ago, they had a baby.  She is a brand new infant: soft and light, with wisps of dark hair and chubby cheeks and deep blue eyes that haven’t learned to focus quite yet.  Last night, my boyfriend and I went over for dinner and stayed late into the evening, talking and laughing and watching Casino Royale.  I held the baby for over an hour after dinner.  We were still sitting around the table, and her mom held her out to me – it was like time froze for a moment. I mean, I’d held an infant before, but they were infants I was related to, infants placed in my arms as I sat securely in a cushioned chair in a hospital room. Holding other newborns had been a big deal: the holding itself was the event, and people stared at me the whole time. My mom would stare. The baby’s parents would stare. The baby would stare at me. My arms would be tense, my jaw set – because in my arms was the world. This newly-born world, this delicate, soft, terribly fragile world.

Those were the thoughts that crashed down on me last night as my friend, this young, beautiful mother, held her twenty-day-old child out to me, this twenty-one-year-old adult who still feels so childish.  The baby’s dark eyes gazed in my general direction, and everything about her was perfect. I wanted to hold her. A voice that sounded vaguely like my own mother’s ran through my head, a steady mantra: Support the head, support the head, support the head. When I took her from her mother, I realized that my middle fingers were as long as the space between her neck and the crown of her brunette head.

I nestled her in the crook of my right arm, muttering something like, “I don’t really know exactly how to do this…” as people went on talking around me. No one stared at me. The baby’s eyes fluttered closed – I couldn’t get over how dark babies’ eyes are – and I exhaled. Then she started screaming.

I looked up at my friends, my eyes wide, poised to return the screaming child to a parent who knew how to fix whatever I’d just messed up. But no one moved to take her. “It’s okay,” they said. “You’re not doing anything wrong.”

How could I not be doing something wrong? Of course I was doing something wrong; the baby in my arms was screaming. Her face contorted, red and furrowed and blatantly unhappy. I took a quick inventory: yes, I was supporting her head; no, I wasn’t crushing her arm; yes, she was, in fact, breathing. I started drawing gentle circles on her back, swaying in my chair, praying for her to stop screaming, to fall asleep, for me to look like I was somewhat competent. I whispered to her, “Shh. You’re okay. You’re okay.” And to myself: You’re okay, too.

Gradually, her dark baby eyes opened again, her face un-crumpled.  She stopped screaming, just looking at me for a while. Then, she slept. She woke up a few more times to scream, but this time I held onto her, prayed again, drew more circles on her back. Eventually, she slept deeply, making small baby noises, slipping neatly into the space between my ribs and my arm.  I held her and talked, laughed, listened to stories.  We stayed that way for a while, four friends and two children, one waddling around the kitchen pointing and asking for names – “That’s a table. That’s a pan. That’s part of the pan – well, it’s the handle. That’s still the table.” – the other in my arms. Sometimes I tuned out of the conversation just to look at the miracle I was holding: the magic that was this baby, knit together the way God said He would, an unspoiled combination of millions of atoms, strands of DNA, a personality and a heart that already beat for Him. I looked at her and I knew in my head that humans were fallen, that sin was real and that this child, too, would screw up during her life. But I didn’t feel it in my heart – all I felt was peace, that this: this cradling, this nestling, this keeping-safe – this was right. This was some tiny remnant of Eden that maybe God had left un-cursed.

Maybe I should have seen more Jesus in it – maybe I should’ve seen that in the same way, He holds me; that in the same way, I am safe. He holds me as I scream, and He does not look for someone else to pass me off to.  A blogger I like said it a few weeks ago: if I got to the Jesus part of this quicker, I’d be a better blogger, a better writer, a better Courtney. But I am selfish, so I had to go by another path to even get close to the Jesus part.  You see, when the baby had screamed, all I could think was that I’d done something wrong. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really: lately, I’m quite prone to thinking I’m doing something wrong. I think my feelings are wrong, my ideas are wrong, my hopes and goals and prayers are wrong. There isn’t really a rational explanation for most of my fear. I’m coming to think that perhaps it’s just a place God has me right now. I’m being challenged and shaken and tilted, maybe not because I’m altogether weak, but because it’s time for me to be stronger.

All this time, even in the midst of my ups and downs, there’s God, and He’s whispering to me shhhhh. Shhhhh.

You’re not doing anything wrong. It’s okay. You’re okay. You know what you’re doing. Support the head, but release that tension in your neck.

We were talking later that night about what it was like holding the baby while she cried, and worrying for a moment about what you were doing wrong. And I don’t remember who said it, or even if it was a conclusive statement that was said, but it was what I left with, and what I’ve been thinking about in the hours since then. Maybe we’re worried about something we already know how to do. Maybe the key isn’t in figuring out why the baby is crying, what we’re doing to cause the pain or the fear or the discomfort. Maybe it’s in realizing that there isn’t anything happening that we need to fix. It’s in realizing that we know how to hold a baby. Finding that quiet confidence, releasing the tension, and drawing circles on her back while waiting for the cries to end. Trusting our God to hear our prayers. Trusting ourselves to listen for Him. Trusting Him to speak.

I am wrong about a lot of things. But I know how to hold a baby.