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
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

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
she lost herself.

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
to my self?



I would like to shout at God.  I would also like to hug Him, in a big way.  A big, fling-myself-into-His-arms sort of way.  And then I want to yell again.  Back and forth, strung between anger and joy and tiredness.  I walk through my days joyful, bouncing and beaming and laughing.  And it isn’t fake; it isn’t a face I’m putting on.  Then, I pause for moments and I realize that I am exhausted.  Exhausted in a way that sleep doesn’t seem to cure.

Then, I un-pause.  I tell myself that I am in my third year of college, which means of course I will feel exhausted.  I tell myself that I have four jobs.  That I have lots of people who love me and with whom I want to spend time.  I tell myself that everything I do, I enjoy.  I tell myself that I have to think about next semester, next summer, next year.  I promise myself that I can take a break from writing poems.  There aren’t words.  Or there are too many words.  Nebulous, disconnected words that mean a great deal in my head but do not yet mean anything when I write them.

Sometimes, I fear that God will take away my gift, and I will be left with nothing to offer.

And I recognize how completely ridiculous that sounds.  As if the gift were mine to begin with.  As if God took where He had no right to do so.  As if God left His children worse off than He found them.  As if He left at all.  I know that He is good, that He has created me for His glory and so He will give me means to glorify Him.  But when I can’t feel that twisty tug at my heart, the one that whispers write, write, write

That is when I question.  And I shouldn’t, because there is so much more to me than the blogs and poems I can churn out.  More to me than the metaphors and the pretty pictures I can paint across a page.  I know that I am loved – very, very loved – for more than what I can do.  I am loved for the heart from which the thoughts and words are spun.  I don’t understand it.  And yet I know that it is true.  I go to the Lord and I stand before Him in awe of the treasures He bestows upon me.

A place to sleep.  A family to call.  A relationship with a man who cherishes me and pushes me toward the Father every day.  Friends who build me up and let me ramble and share their hearts.  Countless other blessings.

So if He asks me to put aside my gift for a month, six months, ten years – I will do it.  If I can never move thoughts to the page again, I want to be content with that.  If I never get my dream job, and if I never have the house with the kitchen island and the big oak in the front yard and the kids in the backyard, I want to be content.  If all anyone ever sees in me is Jesus, I have more than fulfilled my purpose.  That’s what I want.  I want to make sense of the world and I want to have a family and a home and a career and I want to write poems and books and plays – But I don’t need any of it.  I need to desire Jesus.  I need to seek Him – not passively wander about, glancing here and there –

I need to tear through the desert and the jungles, cut my bare feet on the thorns and the broken rocks.  I need to find the faintest trail and never stray from it.  I need to seek Him with a passion, with a ferocity and a fire that exists for nothing and no one else.

If I shouted at Him tonight, I would ask if He sees me.  Does He see me when I’m paused – exhausted and stretched out and distracted?  Is my brokenness and darkness real even in the midst of my joyfulness?  And when I’m un-paused, does He see me then?  As I scurry and stumble and dance through my day, does He see my excitement and anticipation?  Are those as real even in the midst of my brokenness?

I could shout.  I have shouted before.  But tonight, I want to fling myself into His arms.  I want His comfort.  I want Him to use me even when I don’t understand it.


I’ve been trying to write a blog for a few days now.  Nothing is working.  So I’m posting an old piece.  I wrote this in December 2012, just a day after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings.  This is my response.  It’s my heart, at that particular time, looking at the world, cringing, melting, unable to understand it.  I live in Ohio, and I was completely unaffected by anything in Connecticut.  But my head and my heart were searching, right after that, for some explanation.  Didn’t make sense.

Last week, a lot of stuff didn’t make sense.  Lots of crazy happened.  Illnesses and surgery in my family, a family death among my friends, school stresses, extra-curricular stresses… And then there was so much joy.  Real, genuine joy.  How to reconcile the joy and the pain?  How does it both exist so fully and so truly?  Am I really that intricate of a person that I can weep and sing and laugh and sigh and yell all in the same breath?  Are we all that way?

I’m adapting this piece into a scene for my theatre class.  That’s why I revisited it.  But after reading it, I know these are my missing words.  The ones I searched for this week.  It doesn’t match up completely.  But God, once again, has used Past Courtney to speak to Present Courtney.  Weird.  Awesome.

This very well may be one of my favorite pieces I have ever written.  It’s so unlike anything I usually write.  It is very intentional.  But it is also very real.

So, here it is.  Times.


“I don’t get it!” she screamed at him.  She was standing in the middle of the dock, and the small rowboat was to her left, bobbing in the water.  The mountains were behind her and they silhouetted her.

He was standing on the concrete shore, the parking lot they passed for a beach.  He looked at her, and the rowboat, and the mountains.  The rain was coming.  Of course it was coming.  It always came at times like this.  “I don’t get it.”  She whispered now, because the quickening wind was drowning out her voice and her thoughts, and she liked that.  “I don’t get why there is death inside some people.  I don’t get why it eats them, turns them into black ash, makes them crumble to reveal a heartless chest cavity.”

She whispered, but he heard her.  Maybe the wind was blowing the words to him.  He glanced at the rowboat and the mountains, and then at her once more.  He only stood.

 The rain started.  Right on cue, because rain always comes at times like this.

“Say something!”  She was screaming again.  “Give me an answer, give me something!”  She sucked in a ragged, cold, mountain-air breath, and whispered.  “I know it’s bigger than this confusion inside me.  But you’ve got to answer me, or I’m gone.”  She pointed down at the little rowboat when she said this.  Raindrops soaked her hair into strings, and she had cried moments before so her nose and eyes were red.  To look at her was to look at a thing tortured too long by too many thoughts, her stubborn optimism marred by overwhelming fear.  It wasn’t beautiful, even though it should have been, with the mountains towering behind her and the rain and the water and the expanse between them.

He blinked slowly, head down for a long instant, before looking back at her.  He took one step closer and she edged one inch closer to the boat.

 “Where would you go?” he said finally.

 She sighed.  The rain was heavy but when she yelled her answer, it was calmer.  A desperate, defeated calm.

 “I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a place to hide.  Someplace where people don’t die before they die.  Someplace decent.”

 “Maybe,” he replied.  The rain, as is common in times like these, died down a bit.  Drizzle.  He scuffed his boot against the concrete as he thought for a moment.  “Yeah, maybe there is someplace like that.  But I don’t think you believe you’ll find it.”

She only stared at him.  They stared at each other a lot.  They had been best friends a long time, after all.  Staring is usually more important than most words at times like these.  She gave him time to tell her what they both knew she knew.

 “You said you don’t understand why there is death inside some people.  Why it eats them and turns them into something not alive.  But what if it’s inside all of us?  What if it’s not just some people?”

The rain had let up.  There was steam rising from the water in the bay, rolling down from the mountains standing, imposing, behind her.  Because she didn’t want to be near another person, but because she also didn’t want to leave him, she sat down in the middle of the dock.  He sat down too, ten or so feet away from her. He went on, because she let him.

“I think maybe some people do evil things because everyone has it in them.  I think people kill other people because every day, in my own head, I think deathly thoughts, but they’re only ever thoughts.  I think there is a creeping sort of plant in everyone’s chest cavity, one that grows slowly, and can be killed itself by most people, or at least kept at bay, at least can be pruned back often.  But some people can’t handle it.  Some people let the plant’s twisty vines squeeze the life out of their insides because there is nothing in them that tells them to control it.  I think stuff is really screwed up.  And I don’t think anyone gets it.”

She let his words travel between the expanse and into her, to the place words are kept.  Then she spoke, and in her voice resonated all the pain in the world.  Of course, the pain was her’s and her’s alone, and it belonged to no one else.  But the thing that must be understood is that when someone says “all the anything in the world,” it is because their own world is heavy enough to suffice for the universe at large.  Our own life is big enough to feel too big most of the time.

So, she spoke: “Why not me?”

He knew her best, so when she said this, he understood that she was not talking about what everyone else might have thought she would have been talking about.  She wasn’t asking why she was never a victim.  She was asking why the plant in her heart never overcame her, but overcame others.

The rain was going to come back.  At times like this, the rainless moments are only a short reprieve.  Eventually, it will be moderately sunny again, but when a storm comes, it rains for days.

“Why not any of us?” he said in a low, gravelly voice.  “We’re all broken vessels, love.  But some of us get patched, I guess.  There’s no explaining it.  There’s only living with it.”  He paused, smiling halfheartedly.  “I think we should be happy about it.”

“Feels like everyone is scared and angry.  Like everyone’s got it in their heads that now is the time for their own vendetta to start,” she said.  “I don’t think anyone cares much about dealing with life.  They’re just pissed at it all going to hell.”

 Quickly, he said, “It’s not going to hell any quicker than it has been for the last couple thousand years.  It’s just easier to see it these days.”

The rain was starting again, but this time the wind didn’t return.  Everything was softer.  The fog swirled around, the water in the bay wasn’t as choppy, the rowboat didn’t bash into the dock.

 “Maybe everyone is pissed because they all feel it too,” he mused.  “The creeping plant, the broken places.  Maybe the vendettas aren’t about this thing at all.  Maybe the vendettas are just a safeguard against themselves.”  He laughed suddenly.  “You probably should leave then.  There are far too many people in this world all full of hate.”

She smiled, pushing her tangled, stringy hair from her eyes.  She reached out her foot and nudged the boat in the water, raising her eyebrows at him, like an invitation.

 “Wanna come?  We could float away from the confusion.”

 “Nah,” he said.  “Confusion’s always gonna be here.  It’s a screwy place, under these mountains, on this shore.  But I think, since we’re some of the ones who’ve been patched up, it’s probably sort of a duty for us to stay here.  Keep showing people there’s hope, you know?”

She stood up very slowly and walked to him through the rain, leaving the boat and the mountains behind. She was smiling and so was he, which felt, for one fleeting instant, like a very wrong thing to be happening.  But it’s only possible to be angry and upset and full of pain for a certain amount of time before it’s ridiculous not to go on with being normal.  She knew this, and so did he, so they let it feel wrong for a second, then they let it be what it was.

 “You think?” she said when she came to him.  They began walking back toward town.  “Hope?  It’s our job?”

 “It’s our part,” he said with a shrug.  “I don’t think most of it is up to us.”  He stared at her as they walked.  They had both gotten good at staring and walking, since, as we now know, staring usually means more than speaking.

 “You don’t patch broken things unless you intend to use them,” she wondered aloud.  She stopped walking abruptly.  He was one or two steps ahead of her before he stopped too, looking back at her.  He just waited for her to work out the words that were already in her.  “We have to go on without answers, don’t we?”

 He nodded. “Yeah.  I think.”

 She nodded once, curtly, resolutely, resigned but freely resigned.  “Okay.”

 The rain, as it usually does at times like this, kept on.  But they also kept walking.