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.

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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.

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.

 

Where I am now.

where i am now

I am in that place between waiting and doing.
I am in love and choosing to love.
I am learning and teaching.
I am in the stars and in the ocean,
both floating and feeling
seeing and searching.
I am in that place of trusting.
I am inspirited.
I am in the Spirit.
I am full of heart and light and that
fervor –
for life-as-we-knew-it
to become life-as-it-is.

I am in that place of jumping and falling and finding
that place I’ll land.

And it will be beautiful.
I am in that place where I trust
that it will be beautiful.

Restoration

I feel useless here.  I know I’m not useless – I know.  But I saw him in the hospital – small and weak and sleepy.  My grandfather was fine in August.  He was young in August.  I left for school the same way I always left: with a hug, and an “I love you.”  If I would’ve known that he would be so small and weak and sleepy in November, I would like to say that I would’ve said something more, in August.  But how could I have known?  How does something take over an entire person in just a few months?  I have never seen my grandfather look old.  And now, he looks old enough to make him like a child again, frail.  Breakable.  But all I am doing is sitting in a classroom, staring a computer, putting together hypothetical projects and trying not to complain too much (and failing, I think).  I could be at the hospital, keeping him company.  I could be at home, making dinners and doing laundry and putting up Christmas decorations.  I could be doing so much more.

But I am giving presentations, rehearsing scenes, making up fake nonprofits, and studying for gen-ed exams.  For the first time in my life, I don’t understand how school makes a difference.  I can’t see how this matters.

I am such a Martha, always moving, always busy – and I think in my mind I am convinced that if only I could just be done with this semester, then I would be less Martha and more Mary, doing what really matters.  I could take care of my family.  I could be present and helpful.  Surely, Martha is concerned with things that do not last, but Mary is content with the meaningful, busy with the important details.  If only I weren’t so busy, if only I weren’t so stuck in a place where I feel useless, then perhaps I could be a better daughter, a better granddaughter, a better servant of the Lord.  I could be more like Mary, if only.

Mary was busy with important things, like family and Christmas decorating and laundry and hospitals and –

Oh.

“Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He taught.”

Even if I thought I could be like Mary, I think I would be an awful Mary.  Because all I’d be doing is trading one busy-ness for another.  One stress for another.  One I-can-do-this-on-my-own mindset for another.  It’s not to say that being with my family isn’t important.  It is.  And yes, maybe school is rightfully on the back-burner.  But something is broken inside of me, and being in another place, even if I would be better off there for now, isn’t going to fix me.

Martha was stressed.  She was concerned with the world: with fixing dinner and tidying the house because oh my word the Lord was in her home.

The Lord was in her home.  But her mind was in a thousand other places besides.  So is mine.  I feel useless because unless I am sitting at the feet of Christ, I am.

So what do I do?  I listen when he tells me that I need to glorify God in my schoolwork.  I trust God to have perfect timing.  I believe my mom, who reminds me that next week will come quickly.  I whisper it to myself over and over: The Lord is with you.  You are going to be okay.  You are going to be taken care of. 

And I pray, with fervor from some dusty corner of my heart, for healing and miracles and peace if miracles do not come.  I pray for my hurting friends, by busy friends, my patient, loving, beautiful friends.  I am loved in different ways, and I do not understand how I deserved any of it.  And I am allowed to love, too.  I am selfish and broken, but I am loved and I love.  As death and stillness hang over me, abundant joy surrounds me, engulfs me.  Nativities appear around me, delicate porcelain babies placed in tiny mangers meant to remind me of the One who vanquished death and stillness.

It doesn’t feel vanquished.  Right now, it feels powerful.

“But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!  There is only one thing worth being concerned about.  Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.'”

So until I find the feet of my Lord, setting aside the projects and the exams and the hospitals and the laundry, I will find purpose in none of it.  The desert is getting tiresome now.  I have been here for too long, dancing on the edge of the mirage and convincing myself that I spend enough time in the oasis to justify my wanderings.  Lead me to the well, draw up a bucket of the good stuff, the living stuff, and pull me into the living room.  I will pull up a patch of floor, and I will listen to Him here.  This will not be taken away from me.