100 Days.

I find the strangest comfort in the sight of my own face in the mirror — looking at myself the way that she would. Or the way that I would look at her. We converse there in my eyes. Even still. It is the oddest form of self-soothing I have ever practiced instinctively. And I find that I am grateful.

Even to myself.

I believe she would love that.
In fact, I know that she does.

I am a world. And a world lives in me.
In that world, we are all still together.
That world is true.
I’ll keep saying it to myself.

+++

On the whole, common people tend to lose grip entirely on what is true. I’m coming to think they may even do it on purpose. And I — in my current state of near debilitating sadness — have begun to understand it. A distraction of power and performance and title and collection and status… “He who has the gold makes the rules” may very well be our reality. An incredibly powerful one at that. Would that I could deny it entirely.

But hear me, reader: Being real does not make it true. So, don’t let it tell you who/what you are.

Reality is not the boss of you.

+++

My grandmother (for whom there is no adjective other than “mine”) — with all the imperfections our relationship housed — had been a deeply profound consistency in an otherwise dark and difficult life. I know we most likely do not know each other very well, dear reader. But I do hope to bring to you more of myself in the coming times. I am not very good at this. Introversion beckons. Even more so in grief. But I just have to tell you…

We have been separated — my grandmama and I — for 100 days today.
100 days I have wandered here, untethered, saying words here she will never read.
This side of glory.

Whatever glory really is.

+++

O, friend. How my heart aches. I have known pain. I have. Agony, even. Some might even argue that I have known torment.

But this. This is the darkest and most holy ache I believe even my own body has ever sustained. I am so raw. So easily bruised.

So aware of how true it all has to be.
In all of my anger (and know that there is much anger), I cling nonetheless.
I follow the path of dark and holy wisdom before me.
I lash my heart to the ancient mast.

I, as Peter, know (however resentfully sometimes) that there is nowhere else to go.

And so.
I let it wash over me.
I go on with days. With lives. With my learning. With my becoming.
I will endure the ache. As I know that it, too, has a final day.

Day 100.
I will not be afraid.

A Whole Heaven Full

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Garbage In, Garbage Out: An Open (and somewhat angry) Letter to the Intellectually Obese

[consider yourself warned per the title and proceed at your own risk]

We need to talk about that KFC Double Down sandwich. 

Real Talk: I barely make it through the commercial without nausea. I was raised in the Deep South. I have as much appreciation for fried chicken as any other citizen of my butter-centric society. But I keep asking myself (and anyone within hearing distance) why in all of blue hell anyone would put that into their body. Knowing full well, of course, that this level of poison is delivered in nearly every bag from every window of every chain in this country and beyond. You know this. I know this. It’s dangerous. It’s suicide by triglycerides. And anyone who would deny it would be ridiculed from the rooftops. 

With the trend of clean, organic eating on the rise, facts about health and fitness are all but beating us in the proverbial face. And while I educate and put into practice these things for myself, it has become clear to me that the discipline I (with my giant head full of multi-nerdified brains) have applied to my mind for thirty years is, in fact, the same discipline that applies to the body. 

Turns out, most everyone has this all uneven.

This is where it gets real. And I’ll just go ahead and tell you that I’m not going to apologize for any offense that any stranger or any friend takes to the following words, as they are given out of great love and respect (of the highest form a real person is capable). Also, please know that while I do generally subscribe to (non-commercialized, non-westernized, non-American) Christian orthodoxy, this is not a post about the biblical standards of media consumption. It’s not even worth arguing about to me. This is not me telling you to stop listening to the radio and burn all your “secular” CDs or stop playing war-themed video games or watching The Walking Dead. It’s a broader problem than this. So, hear me with different ears, yeah?

Y’all, 95% of what is being shoved down your throat in both visual and literary media is the equivalent of that KFC Double Down Sandwich. I’m not joking. If you wouldn’t put that garbage in your body, why in the name of God and all things good and true and holy in the world would you put that into your mind? 

Before you start in on your excuses, let me remind you that “just liking [insert trendy, poorly written bullsh*t here] for the mindlessness/relaxation/entertainment” is the equivalent of just liking food for the taste. And will you please listen to yourself? In your body, that would be called an EATING DISORDER — by no stretch of the imagination or definition of disorders. You think you’re reading something “just for entertainment” and you can purge it out with not modeling your life after it? I’ll go ahead and name that logic for you: INTELLECTUAL BULIMIA. And it is doing to every facet of your mind EXACTLY what bulimia does to every organ in your body. Why, O why, do you continue to act like it is any different? I refuse to walk you through every detail of what these things in mass consumption do to your mind and your heart and your worldview because you are a grown person and me spoon feeding you this information is precisely the opposite of what I mean to do for you. 

Your body was made to function a certain way and cannot function well without proper nutrition. Yes, a strict and rigorous routine can be just as damaging to you as a complete lack of discipline. And that door swings both ways. But until you have taught your body to consistently eat well, particularly if you have certain allergies or targeted problems, you’re not going to be giving yourself a binge-day. You have to create good habits, right? And doing that means giving yourself rules. Because (HEAR ME): without good habits, under prolonged malnutrition, you will die

You should see this coming…

Your mind and your heart were made to function certain ways. They were wired to search for truth and goodness. And when you shove literary garbage into your mind and find yourself fighting (and denying) insecurities or fears or, hell, even psychological stuntedness, how can you possibly be surprised by this? You fed your SELF crap! You taught your MIND and your PERSONHOOD lies about your own value and the value of people around you! And death still applies here, friends. I might even argue that a dying mind or a person whose very soul is rot with death is far worse than any dying body. 

By continuing on this path, you answered to a name that fundamentally, inherently is not yours. It will never be yours. And it never should be. 

I am done pitying you for this, friends. My pity is not love or grace for you. Grace is telling you the truth: if you have practiced prolonged cerebral and literary laziness, you are intellectually obese. And you have not done the work. You will never know your name if you do not do the work to search for it. And why do any of us consume a story if not to find ourselves? Or each other? 

I will not list for you what I personally find to be literary junk food. This is not a mental diet plan. I am not the Dr. Oz of Barnes and Noble. 

[Actually, I kind of am. But that is not what this post is about]

It is your mind. 
It is your heart.
Ultimately, you decide how you are going to build it.
Or discover it.
Or save it. 

Garbage in, garbage out. 

 

 

To 2013: Because you’ll be surprised what won’t kill you.

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I used to always do this. End the year with some great profound thought, hoping to have made a dent on the world in the 365 days that had just passed. I wanted to be sure I was savoring whatever mysterious thing the ‘present’ is to be savored. Turns out, I think the present is better at savoring me than I am at savoring it. And it isn’t always nice about it.

But that is a blog for another day.

So many blogs, so little time…

Nonetheless, this year there were words that shaped me. Lyrics of songs, lines from television shows, tweets, words from friends; words of comfort, of truth, of hope, of betrayal, and even words I’d heard a thousand times before. All of these things have been swimming around in my head, particularly since I drove the 1300 miles home. Because I didn’t just come home: I left. I left something. Something that happened. So many somethings that happened. And I didn’t realize until just a few days ago that where my mind had been feeding itself on these words and militarily moving me forward, my body was struggling to keep up and my heart barely survived (jury is still out on its current state).

I thought, then, it was only right that I compile the words I fed myself on in the wilderness of the past year. For whatever they’re worth. I am emerging from said wilderness, donning furs and wild hair. These are my locusts. If you will.

10. Time is not the boss of you. — The Doctor
It’s true, you know. We are our worst enemies. And my great crime as communist dictator over myself is being in a constant hurry, as though death himself is chasing me, tailing me so closely, nipping at my heels — threatening at any second of any day to expose me for the fraud and the unimportant speck of dust that I am. Any of that may very well be true, but every once in awhile it helps when a mad man with a box and tails reminds me to relax. Even the end is not the boss of me. Because it has not gotten the last word.

9. When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all…grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better. — The Doctor
See above. And honestly, watch Doctor Who. Because who are you kidding not watching it.

8. What can you do, dragon, to erase the life and the laughter I’ve already lived and already laughed? — ND Wilson
This line, Nate Wilson tweeted during Holy Week. And every time I feel myself starting to resent my own pain or lose my breath to the death march of my ever-ticking clock, I hear these words. And I find myself a place to stand straight and tall and say them aloud. Because indeed, dragon. What have you left, now that it has finished.

7. Tell me how not to fail you.
Technically, this line was from a conversation in October of 2012. But the entirety of 2013 has been its response. If you were to dissect the body of the betrayal itself, this line would’ve been found in the bones. And where it has made the list of the most hurtful things I’ve ever endured, it has also taught me the exact tone of the terror of success. This failure was not the first of its kind, but if it is up to me, it will be the last.

6. Leonato: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
Beatrice: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth

[Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2, Scene 1]

Given the previous line, even in vagueness, I would think this is pretty self explanatory. I promise, this is as cynical as I’ll allow this post to be. Because the other reason I include this has everything to do with David Tennant playing a Scottish Benedick opposite Catharine Tate’s Beatrice in the RSC modern staging of my all time favorite Shakespeare. Get thee to Digital Theatre to watch it. Amazing.

5. This is water. — David Foster Wallace
I refuse to give this man, and these words, any explanation at all. For he needs nothing from me. You owe it to yourself to hear him say it. All of it. Trust me on this one. Click here.

4. We are here to build the house. — Sugar/Cheryl Strayed
Dear Sugar was a column on a website called The Rumpus that I followed closely until the big reveal of Sugar’s identity as the author Cheryl Strayed (who is a delightful person, btw). Be forewarned, my more conservative friends/readers, that her language as well as the subject matter is quite colorful (and most of you will likely take serious offense). But she is one of the greatest and most human writers, particularly as Sugar, that I have ever read. And these words became a staple in my Denver home and between friends in relation to intentionality in our relationships and in our greater community. In the spirit of these things and the lenses of I Peter 2, I give you the line in a bit more context:

It doesn’t matter what your head is working out—the monthly grand, the uncertainty of unemployment, the meta/feminist gymnastics. Putting faith in that crap might pay the rent, but it’s never going to build your house.

We are here to build the house.

It’s our work, our job, the most important gig of all: to make a place that belongs to us, a structure composed of our own moral code. Not the code that only echoes imposed cultural values, but the one that tells us on a visceral level what to do.

3. It is not your job to give meaning to the world. Jonathan Rogers
I have only one word for this statement: Hutchmoot. Read my full thoughts here.

2. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:5
This. Honestly, what needs to be said after this. I submit only silence. For this is the bad news (darkness exists) and the good news (it has not overcome the light) all wrapped up in a few short words. It is true every morning, every evening, every loss, every gain. It is true or else nothing is. It is the only story worth telling. It is the only name worth having. It is the only reason to keep going. It shines, indeed, my friends. And it will not be stopped.

1. Timshel
“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.” [John Steinbeck, East of Eden]

If you have not read East of Eden from start to finish, make it a point to do so immediately if not sooner. It should probably be a frequent re-read for most of us who tend towards the cynical and exhausted, particularly. Because if there’s one thing I can say about my year and the choices I’ve made (far from perfect, mind you), I am proud of myself. I am proud to be myself. I am proud to have done what I did in the way that I did it. Because ‘timshel’ was said gently to me more than once by my Gatherer. And I had ears to hear. Here is the full context for the quote.

::BONUS::

Better to fail doing the right thing than to succeed doing the wrong one. — The Doctor
You know who you are.

Remember how much light you have. — lyric from Ben Shive, who is nauseatingly talented and easily the single most underrated songwriter in existence. I will not only argue to the death with anyone who would say otherwise, I will seriously question your judgement about most things that matter. Have I convinced you yet? Anyway. This line. What else can I say but that I needed it? I did. How I did.

This, too, shall be made right. — Derek Webb
Because 80% of these 365 days will be added to the long list of tragedies and sorrows that will come untrue.

To 2014, friends. To killing the dragon, not being the slave of time or fear or failure or our old lives. To being better than we were — than we are. To Wisdom over folly, righteousness over easiness, Truth over the way it has always been. May we find ourselves all the closer to knowing our names, seeing our home, and being made real when another 365 days have passed.

Contrition, Forgiveness, and Retirement from Messiah-ing

If there is a word I have heard thrown back and forth the great room of evangelical church culture as of late, it is the word “reconciliation.” I have heard it said with great emotion and emphasis. I have heard stories told of the great healing taking place between friends and marriages and former church members. I have heard of the grace and the effort required to make reconciliation a reality. I have seen the self-proclaimed people of God (to be heard with significantly less cynicism than one might expect) get genuinely excited about doling out said grace and effort. It is so easy to get caught up in the wave of that spirit, and rightfully so.

Everything sad is, in fact, coming untrue.

We so desperately want to feel the truth of that statement, we’re almost willing to attribute great emotional value and movement to any semblance of reconciliation. And when you think of the great tragedy of the human story since the Fall, it makes sense that we would do that. Anything to feel like this isn’t all there is. Anything to feel like this isn’t the way things will be left. Anything to keep from believing that the death of things is the very last word.

+++

If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality. [John Stott, Confess Your Sins]

+++

Jesus tells me to forgive even the unrepentant offender (or the seemingly repentant offender who, in fact, “repents” at his own convenience for his own benefit and his own benefit alone) as though my bank of grace is overflowing. For I, too, have been forgiven the unforgiveable. Plenty of commentaries and scholarly-know-it-alls like to give me all sorts of high end suggestions on how to not harbor vengeful attitudes or angry weaponry in my heart against someone who has hurt me. I should take the high road, should I not? Forgiving them as Christ forgives me.

I got it. I do.
But I’m not Christ. And if we’re just being honest here…

I think the tension sits heavily in not wanting to look like a naive idiot.

Honestly. I don’t want anyone who has hurt me deeply (and repeatedly, for that matter) to walk away thinking that they can pull the wool over my eyes again. I feel the urgent need to disclaim my grace with “But I’m not stupid. I know you’re a liar. I know you don’t mean a word you just said to me.” How to reconcile in my mind that my forgiveness — my grace — is not to be wasted on, let’s just be real, a black hole of manipulative drama and unkindness? How to continue forward in honesty, calling the truth what it is and unapologetically drawing the appropriate lines around not only my heart and my friendship, but my gifts of exhortation and kindness?

I don’t think I’ve done it yet. I don’t think the dust has settled long enough for me to reconcile anything within myself, much less relationally outside. But I think the truth remains steady. Forgivness, yes, is commanded of me. And it requires my complete surrender to the only One with a boundless supply — the only One who can foot a bill as large as the ones I’ve been racking up as of late. But relational reconciliation — human to human — particularly with a person who, I am convinced, cannot be trusted with his own heart, much less mine, is not commanded of me.

There comes a point when the maudlin expression of reconciliation becomes the most used enablement technique for the narcissists allowed to speak over us their own philosophical interpretations of the way the true world works. And hear me, beloved: those are lies. The Truth lives in me. And though He whispers to me to forgive and dole grace it is in accordance with my name — with His name, He at no point asks me to continually give of my [valuable, irreplaceable, precious] heart and mind to the aforementioned black hole. Certainly not in accordance with my becoming an emotional doormat. Yes, I extend grace. I am kind in the face of even the most absurd display of disingenuous contrition. But in my heart it is clear: I owe nothing. My debt is to God alone, and any kindness I give is in response to the belovedness He has bestowed me. The offender’s sin — as well as his belovedness — now lies between him and his God.

+++

Truly, friends, my Messiah complex knows no bounds. At least it didn’t know bounds. It has reached its walls. It has come to the places that only the perfected heart of the Christ can forgive. The dark, hopeless men that only the Christ can believe and draw into being as good as their names. The small, sad women that only the Christ can pull from their endless internal obscurity into the staggering freedom of being whole.

I suppose this is my hopeful retirement from the business of messiah-ing. Hold me to it, yeah?

+++

I was not gracious to you out of a continued love and intimate friendship.
I was not gracious to you because you earned it or because I owed it. I did not. And you did not.
I was not gracious to you because I was afraid to be anything else.

I was gracious because it is my name.
And, God help me, it’s the only one I want to have had in my life.

On Something “Better”

The following is what someone else might call a short and wordy existential rant on something that need not take up so much head space. To that I say, welcome to my world. The questions I raise to myself, however, in this rant are ones I find worth thinking about. I thought you might as well. That is all. Take it as you will.

+++
I am constantly wondering what it means when someone tells me that because one thing ends, “God must have something better” for me moving forward. It is an interesting theology that gives supposed comfort by the idea that God holds something “better” for one than the thing one leaves behind (for whatever reason, with whatever violence or solemnity). So American, even. Almost consumerist. Why does the concept of “better” entice me to trust further the Maker? Is He not my Maker? Is He not good, regardless of my perspective? Will the next be “better” for me because it makes me feel better? Would I still move forward out of obedience if someone says that what He actually holds next for me is “worse” than what I leave behind? Who determines the scale for what is better or what is worse? Am I not the axis of that spinning thought? What a dangerous place for me to be…

Is He not still good if I move forward and am in a far more miserable place than before? Could a perceived misery be, in fact, the better?

The point is, and always has been, that He is good. He is to be trusted. And I am to make decisions about my life while being true to the way He wired me and obedient to what He has told and shown me of His character and of His Kingdom. Not because He has promised to only lead me to a presupposed “better.”

My job is, for better or worse, to dig it up. Whatever the next “it” may be. He is the only one who tells me to take my shovel. And should He move me from one spot to another, it is not up to me or anyone else to assume that He leads me closer to the water — or the thing for which I am digging in the first place (because let’s not act like we always know why we’re digging). I do not deserve to dig up anything of consequence any more than anyone else who has been given a shovel.

My one job is just to dig where I am told.
And report what I have found.

+++
Note: This is in my head every time someone gives me that obligatory statement. I promise not to give the dissertation EVERY time someone comforts me this way. But just know. It’s there. 🙂

hello, my old heart.

“I am in Colorado. My heart, as expected, feels as though it has been shattered and the pieces spread out — some even discarded as useless or dead. Necessary, I find, for the radical formation of a new heart… I’ll keep watch. There is something for me here. I can almost smell it.”

I wrote those words only a few days after signing the lease and moving into my apartment in Colorado Springs in February of 2011. I knew as Amy and I crossed into the state and I took one look at those mountains, I would not stay here long. I remember feeling so small against the shadow line of those foothills at dusk — trying to analyze their every crevice and un-trick my eyes from the perception of those mountains as carnival rides covered in dark blankets for off season.

This was anything but off season.

The rumors began in my bones only weeks into living in an entirely new place.
Something was coming.
Something was changing.
Something was falling away.
Something awaited.

Promises were made in the unspoken recesses of my heart. Faith was being asked of me in ways I could not categorize or even fully grip — though grip I did try. I am here to testify, by the way, that gripping and clawing at one’s “reasonable” faith is a bit like trying to solve a problem like Maria…

One infamous Sunday morning sermon rang violently in the caverns of my inner cathedral as I thought I had finally understood my own world. I had finally taken hold of the air. And now, though my lenses were foggy and the way was dark as the Mines of Moriah, I know that I was right.

Hope was offered under a big, clean, shiny bow.
Value was being proven.
Heart was being enfleshed.
Something “so much bigger” than me was happening, as the pastor had delivered so enthusiastically that morning.

The cosmos had opened and the single most terrifying moment that could ever befall an individual like me in the history of all of creation did, in fact, befall.

God turned His face towards me.
He could see me, He’d said. I should keep my eyes fixed on Him, and He would deliver to me an impossible thing.

And wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what He did?

I spent the following months pointing to every moment in search for my supposedly destiny-fulfilling “impossible thing” as a child shaking the contents of a wrapped gift under a tree in search for the one thing they’d asked for.

Is this it?
What about this one?
This sounds an awful lot like it…

No answer. No clarity. Only questions. And a promise.

Slowly, my community began to crumble, reflecting all too well the wounded heart of the one they followed. I, too, found myself wounded at his hands, shaking my fist at the One who told me to make myself a home here. Who was left to trust?

Then it happened —

Amidst the blood and bruises, the rusty weapons, the body-decaying stress and the surrendered defense against needless cruelties, I finally shook the right box under that tree.

My impossible thing:

It was me.
I was the promise to myself. All of me. Bigger on the inside. Finally given room to look around and recognize myself as my self.

There you are, I can remember feeling for the first time since the chaos began so long ago. Look at you, I have said. Look at what you have done here. Look at what you have endured. Look at what you really are. Look at what you could have been.

And child, He says to me even still, repeating the words I have come to value the most: Don’t be afraid.

Hutchmoot, Pie Making, and the World Moving On…

I spent four rich days in Nashville last week. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, as I’ve been expecting a major transition for awhile now. I usually sense when the switch is about to flip and the world is creeping forward to move on (obligatory hat tip to Roland Deschain). Sometimes this can feel a little ominous, like the change that is coming should evoke a little dread in me. But sometimes it’s a simple as me recognizing the bare flesh made from stone.

I went to Hutchmoot this year.  And at some point while I was there, the switch flipped, I was made more flesh, and the world moved on.

++++

This was my second year to convene with all of the other nerdy, pipe-smoking, socially-awkward-in-the-best-way Rabbits that generally huddle around The Rabbit Room. I knew a little of what to expect. I knew just how high the hurdles of intimidation were going to stand. I knew the kind of effort it was going to take on my part to throw my body over them and hope to land on my feet.

I’m not sure I always did. But point is that I tried, right?

It’s okay to be bad at something on your way to begin good at it.
Hutchmoot Session 2: A Case for Craft

So, I was asked when a few familiar faces arrived why I thought I had been brought to Hutchmoot this year. What did I think I was going to hear? Or find? Or receive?

What am I doing here?

Others around me seemed to have some direction in what they were specifically seeking. Or even what they were expecting to hear from God. But I didn’t have an answer.

I don’t know what I’m doing here. I just know I’m supposed to stand here in front of this proverbial fire hydrant with my Dixie cup and do my best to leave with some water. Maybe try not to get my face too distorted by the pressure.  

Let me back up. I spent the greater part of the last two years sick with what could’ve quickly and easily turned into a pretty serious chronic illness involving a digestive tract that wasn’t really interested in digesting anything but itself. I was bombarded with stress — both physically and emotionally — beginning with an ugly stint in the hospital just after the first of the year.  Suddenly, I was becoming aware of how, for 29 years, I’ve been wearing myself out. Stretching myself to keep together what may very well have been destined to be torn apart. My crippling [and ultimately ridiculous] messiah complex is another story for another day.

Still, this all involved mourning my own mortality and the painfully tedious and pragmatic tragedy of my rebellious heart. I have spent the greater part of this year feeling tired and nauseated and heartbroken and emotionally rubbed raw. But you know, in the spirit of my personal theme of 2013 so far, you’ll be surprised what won’t actually kill you. I kept asking myself what the story was here. What am I going to make of this whole experience? I worked hard to dig around and bring some depth to the death that had been hunting me all year — lurking in every available space and laughing at me at every available opportunity. What am I going to make this mean?

Fast forward to October and the question at hand.

I’m standing at the hydrant. I have a few extra Dixie cups with me. I’m not sure how I’m going to travel with them all. Hell, maybe I’ll just drink as much as I can in the moment and hope it nourishes something I can take with me. The one thing I know for sure is that we, the nerdy rabbits, gather to receive as much as we gather to make something happen. 

And something happened.

I soaked up such grace and wisdom in session and in personal conversations about writing and publishing and being a person and calming down. These things have had more impact on me than I have time to express. But there was a moment that the sky opened up and the whole of the earth turned to whisper to me the thing I had been drawn here to hear.

++++

Andrew Peterson and Jonathan Rogers presented the final session I attended for the weekend entitled Writing Close to the Earth. They promptly engaged me in an intellectual cage fight about coming down from my lofty, abstract one-line-focused writing [as in, setting up an entire scene just to get one abstract message across, not that I’m guilty of this at all *ah hem] and digging my literal hands into the literal earth to find what already exists. All of this was so true of me both in my writing and in my personal life. Jonathan even mentioned a wild character in one of his books that he debated even leaving in because he seemed to just come out of nowhere with one-line abstract wisdom and disappear again into the wilderness.

I’m basically this character in my actual life. Sans locusts and animal furs, abstract vaguery isn’t just my first language, it’s my spiritual gift.

But then he said it. The thing I had come all this way to hear. The thing that unveiled the 29 years and 10 months so far:

It's not your job...

There I had been, exhausting myself in God knows how many ways for God knows how long, trying desperately to give meaning to stories that didn’t really need my help to mean anything at all.

And just in case I didn’t get to catch all of that in my tattered up Dixie Cup during the session, the blasting hydrant let up again in the form of a conversation I had with Nate Wilson, where he reminded me that cream rises, and my only job is to excel in my craft [which I believe was given several different metaphors including duck hunting and pie making]. To see. And to say. There is a God. He is better at this than I am. And no matter how unfocused and overwhelmed I am, He’s going to get what He wants. There will be meaning. Every time.

I could say so much more about the weekend. And I may take some time to post about each session individually. For now, suffice it to say I walked in to Hutchmoot one version of myself and walked out another entirely — taken, again, [ever so gently this time] from one degree of glory to the next.

the girl in the pit.

I know about the girl in the pit.

The one who sometimes rises up out of you, responding out of irreparable wounds, shooting a soul-flushing white fire from her eyes, speaking hatred without words. I know how you feel about her. And I know how she makes you feel. You hate that girl.  You have banished her as often as you could. Denied her as any part of the real you. You have functioned under the delusion that she has no attachment to you at all. She’s just that ugly, mean, troubled, disturbing, embarrassing jerk that lives in the pit you dug for her.

And she just…

won’t…

die.

You truly hate her.

I know. I hated her, too.

I dug pit after pit for her. I beat and banished her in ways that would make your skin crawl. I said terrible things to her. I joined in the ranks of demons whispering around her… constantly validating the lies that were told so many times they began to distort her skin and her face and change the color of her hair. She was becoming those lies. And I was letting her. I thought she deserved it.

But there came a time that she came out of that pit and I had to look at her — really look at her, in the face and the eyes. She was like a wild, mangy, wounded cat that I couldn’t touch without getting clawed and hissed at. And when she finally calmed down — when I finally saw the blood and gore of what had been done to her — I could scarcely face her.

Because she wasn’t her.

She was me.

I had joined the war against myself. My actual self. And I had lost. Either way.

Child, listen to me. I’m going to tell you the whole truth. And when I say you, I mean you. All of you. You and the girl in the pit. Not the whole world —  not all the peoples of all nations past, present or future. I’m talking to you, so stop subconsciously looking for an excuse to only halfway listen (and therefore halfway believe) what I’m about to say to you. Look at me right here on this screen behind those little black symbols. And do not look away until we are finished.

You were always intended to be this girl — however many pieces of you are lying around or being punished right now. Maybe slightly impulsive and reactionary. Angry about being angry. Bright and fast and brave and sensitive and deep. You were always going to be this girl with this story — regardless of how your experience has dictated it you. Every moment has been and will continue to be on purpose. And you will see, when it is all said and done and restored, that it was all for your good. Every thread was weaved out of the great love housed for you at the turn of every invisible corner. If you sit still and quiet enough, you will know it’s there — soaking through your pores, turning your hair into gold, adoring you with a power that probably terrifies you even now. Because it is the Truth, child — the Truth who has a name. And He will never stop pursuing you. All of you. Even the one in the pit.

I know these things because He told me. And when I asked how to save her — how to save us — He told me she was already saved. He had already rescued her.

She was already a hero.

He gave me a story for her — a story to show me what kind of hero she really is. It’s not all glitz and glamour. It’s not all chocolates and true love. But it’s not that pit, either. And for some reason, while my sweet friend and I have been telling the story of this and other heroes we have been digging out from various other pits, we were told to bring that story to you.

So.

We are.

In the meantime, stop beating the tired girl in the pit. Stop joining the raging, merciless, malicious battle against yourself. Get up, beloved. Grab the scarred hand of Truth that has been reaching down there for you this entire time. Take the outrageous risk of believing Him when He says “you belong.” And let Him bind you together again — as it was in the beginning with Him, before you ever drew breath on this planet. I repeat, lest I forget:

He will never stop pursuing you.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.

(Psalms 139:15-16)

else. (a story)

She felt the edges of the paper crumpling in her warm hands. It seemed to mean less to her now that she had it. Now that she was officially an educated woman.

“Still want to go?” he mumbled, almost grunting gently and waving to the old woman in the front room as the screen door creaked and slammed behind them.

“I’m going, Frank. We’ve been through this.” Though she spoke gently, she didn’t even look up at him this time. She could hear him heave a sigh that seemed to fill the state of Louisiana with the smell of chewing tobacco and last night’s whiskey.

But Claire breathed deep anyway. The wind like a heater on the side of her already glistening forehead, she inhaled a millisecond of panic that evaporated before exhaling again. Frank picked up two of her suitcases with one hand. She watched him turn her hatbox on its side, place it firmly between his waist and his left elbow and reach for a third suitcase.

“Well, let’s get going.” He spoke with no emotion, which was nothing new to her. Still, it stirred her inside, and she missed him already. She knew he was not emotionally unavailable. She had seen him with his wife, warm and sincere. There was a feeling person in there somewhere…

She unbuckled one of her bags and placed her sheet of paper inside of it carefully, straightening out the edges she had previously crumpled up without care and remembering why it had mattered to her again. Putting on her flimsy straw hat and picking up the two remaining bags, she followed him down the front steps of her now former teacher’s home. And without looking back, she and Frank started the long mile to the train station, kicking up dust the whole way.

“How long before you come back?” he asked after a long enough silence for their slightly strained breath to become consistent noise.

She looked up at him, feeling that second of panic in the pit of her stomach again. She swallowed quickly and widened her eyes so the sneaking tears would retreat back into their fortresses and said, “I don’t know, Frank.”

He let out a wheezy chuckle, “And why do you end every statement with my name?”

“I guess I’ve determined that if we’re going to continue in the same conversations over and over again I might reciprocate the repetitive nature –” she took a deep calming breath, knowing her tendency to easily lose her temper. It was quiet again for a millisecond before Frank let out a burst of yet more wheezing laughter and said,

“You funny creature! Was I supposed to catch a single word you just said to me –”

She kept her smile at bay as long as she could before letting her laughter loose into the trees on either side of the dirt road where they were walking. The sound of both of their laughter filling to the brim some unknowable void seemed to glisten shortly, then disappear into the woods. And just as she’d suspected, as the laughter died down, she felt her throat tighten, closed her eyes and turned her face away from Frank. The newly risen sun warmed her already flushing cheeks and her liquid grief, marbled with nostalgia and a strange sense of moving on rose in waves and trickled down either side of her face quietly. It was odd not to be overwhelmed by it. She almost welcomed the relief of each wave, though she’d been irritably avoiding it all morning. Out of the corner of her left eye, she could see Frank watching her and let another wave roll. Taking a deep breath, she turned her head and found him, though not smiling, surprisingly pleasant-faced. She imagined that’s exactly how John would’ve looked if he were with them. He and Frank so easily took on the same expressions.

If John were with them, none of this would be going on.

She wouldn’t be going anywhere this morning but that old oak tree in front of the Methodist church, wearing her young grandmother’s white lace gown, newly altered to fit her, and the dark sapphire ring that belonged to John’s grandmother — Frank’s mother — on her left hand.

But Claire was wearing a blue dress that belonged to her grandmother’s housemaid, Eloise, who was the last of her family to pass away when she was fourteen. Her flimsy straw gardening hat covered her anything but glamorous hair. She was not dressed for the beginning of the rest of her life. She was dressed for the rest of her day on a train.

And John was not here.

“He would want you to go,” Frank said gruffly, clearing his throat and furrowing his eyebrows as he looked at her. His eyes relaxed for a second before he looked back at the road and picked up the pace a little. She watched his face for awhile. His patchy black beard was speckled with silver and white. His eyes were round like John’s, but darker, deeper brown. Almost black. And in one magical second, she could see John’s face, should he have lived to grow old, in his father’s.

“Yes,“ she heard her voice saying before she’d really prepared herself. “You’re right. He would want me to go. He would — he’d want me to do something with my life.”

“No,” said Frank quickly, stopping in the road. “Your life is….something.”  His voice cracked slightly and he was starting to stutter, which was more than she could take, as Frank was never emotional. She had stopped and turned slightly to watch him search for what he wanted to say while keeping a grip on the luggage he was carrying. “He would want — he’d want you to go, yes – and… he’d want you to go.” They walked on.

********

They were silent until they’d gotten right up to the station. Frank placed all of her luggage carefully beside her and went to speak with the attendant at the window. She let her hair down — turning wavy in the early morning humidity — and pulled it back into a low loose bun, putting her hat perfectly on top just in time for a gust of hot wind and dust to blow it off her head. Immediately, Frank chased it shortly down the dirt lot in front of the station and yelled back at her laughing, “Sure you want to wear this today?” She feigned a small grin and began moving her luggage around to find somewhere to put it for the ride. With her back to him, Frank saw her reach for the top of the hatbox, her shoulders lifting slowly and releasing as she raised her head, staring forward.

She let her hand rest on the top of the box before she looked down and carefully reached around the rim to open it. Once she did, she looked forward again, her face stoic as ever. Frank had moved close enough to see the sun sparkling off of something small on the top of a messy pile of folded papers. He inched closer quietly and with an unintentional limp — her hat looking minuscule in his large hands as he folded and twisted it.

They stood there, frozen as a picture, for what seemed an eternity. Frank wondered if she’d take that ring out or touch it at all.

Before they left that morning, Frank’s wife, Molly, had told Claire that this would be good for her, that this is something hopeful. Something more. But Claire was feeling the frustration of that all over again standing there in the blazing morning sun, the embroidery on her dress scratching her shoulders and her heated hair starting to burn her scalp. John wanted something more for his life. For their life together. And she was perfectly satisfied to have the life that Frank and Molly have. Frank at the sugar mill. Molly teaching Sunday School and organizing home visits with the Methodist church. Two kids. Modest living. It was beautiful to Claire. Normal, even.

But John was only working at the mill to pay for the wedding. They were going to move to Baton Rouge so he could go back to school. He wanted to teach history. He wanted to travel. He wanted to show Claire all the things a “girl like her” could have and be in the world.

“This just isn’t it for us,” he had said. “Maybe it doesn’t have to be something more than my parents have… just — just something else.”

This was it. This was going to be her something else. And she wasn’t sure she could call it good. Yet. She would, however, call it expensive. Because so far this good, this hope, was the most demanding thing she had ever come to know. It cost her John. And it cost Frank and Molly, John. And it better damn well be worth it.

“I’m not going to cry anymore, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she said decidedly, startling Frank a bit with her sudden voice. “I just — I haven’t figured out what I’m supposed to do with it.” He moved closer in, handing her the runaway hat. She thanked him before looking up, unsure of what kind of emotion, if any, his pregnant silence was holding. He made no noise at all. “Do you want it back?” she asked, finally, barely sure she would even be able to get the question out at all. “I mean, I know it was your mother’s. Maybe Liza would want it when she’s older or Molly might –”

Frank was looking at the ground, one hand pressing the crease of his nose and furrowed brows, the other held up to indicate it was time for her to stop talking.

“I’m sorry, I just–”

“I’m only gonna say this once,” his deep voice interrupted. “So listen sharp, right?”

She nodded, waiting for him to look up at her with reproach and scold in his eyes. The same way he’d looked at her and his son when John announced their engagement at the birthday dinner Frank and Molly had thrown when she turned seventeen last year. She remembered helping Molly wash the dishes in silence after dinner, and watching Frank and John having a serious conversation on the front porch — both without fighting but certainly stern from both sides. She’d never been more entranced by the dynamic of a normal family. And she’d never seen the two of them look more alike.

The way Frank’s face looked just then, as she’d been opening up that hat box — he looked just like John, again. And she felt the edges of her heart start to crumple and rip, as if someone was cutting open and peeling back tissue around a healing wound.

Frank’s eyes grew less harsh immediately upon seeing her expression turn from a guarded inquisition to something more young and vulnerable. She felt her face flushing again and with all attempts to the opposite, her eyes were welling up with tears as her left hand slipped into the hat box and ran her fingers across the ring that was still sitting atop the pile of papers.

He reached out, stepping closer to her quickly, and took hold of her hand inside that hat box. Bringing the ring out with it, he took her hand in front of his chest and took in a fast, deep breath, trying to keep his tears from overwhelming her. But it was already done. They were already streaming down his face. She’d never seen Frank cry. Not at the funeral. Not even when he told her what happened to John at the mill.

“This,” he said between sobs, “was John’s gift for you.” He placed the ring carefully on her right ring finger. It felt heavy on the opposite hand, and she was overwhelmed. No one had ever been particularly affectionate with her except for John. And he had barrier after barrier to overcome. But when he did, when he held her or did so much as brush her hair out of her face, she could feel her heart exploding a little, as if it was something she would never admit to desperately wanting to feel. And it made her all the more afraid of losing it. She wondered if Frank could tell how her heart felt from where he was standing. She wondered if it would be safe to show him, if she could figure out how.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small tube of lipstick, which made her laugh and reach up with her left hand, as he was still holding her right, to wipe tears from her face. “This –” he held it up in front of his face trying to read the label on the side. “Well, I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean, but it’s your gift from Molly.” He handed it to her, letting go of her right hand, and they both laughed a little as she took the top off and twisted the bottom until a bright red column appeared. “She said it’s for good luck. She wore it on her wedding day,” he took a quick breath in again and wiped his nose with his sleeve. “She uh,– she said she wanted you to have it on yours.”

Claire looked up at Frank, smiling brightly with the last few tears trickling down her face. His eyes were tired, and for the first time she felt like they were the same. Their grief, their hope, their determination to move on. It really was the same. He reached out and put both of his giant callused hands on either side of her face, catching some of her loose hair around her ears.

“This is your gift from me,” he smiled suddenly, leaning in to meet her eye to eye. “You, Claire Walker, are the bravest that there is.” She let another sound burst all the way from her chest and what she felt sure was the overflow of her tired, filled-up heart. Not quite a laugh, not quite a cry, though it came with tears, she reached up and took each of his wrists with her hands. The sun was sparkling off of the ring on her right hand and washing the picture of them with a bright white. “Now,” he said in a near whisper, squinting slightly then kissed her on the forehead. “Now you go find out why.”

A fresh breath filled her lungs and rather than swallow a lump in her throat, she sighed deeply with relief. With an air of unburdening, she nodded at him.

“Molly’s sister will be waiting on you at the station once you get to Chicago. She’ll know you by your dress,” he put the top back on the hat box and patted it gently. “And by this.”

“Okay,” she whispered. She straightened up, ready to take back on the aura of independence that she’d been mastering for four years now, despite John’s best efforts to crack her. She would never be given the opportunity to let him know how he had.

But Frank knew. He laughed as he pushed her hair back behind her ears and said, “You are a funny little creature.”

He winked, waved slightly to the attendant at the window of the station and turned back to the dirt road. She looked down at the ring on her right hand, twisting it with her thumb and fingers on either side. Watching Frank kick dust up behind him as he walked back towards town, she remembered the night John had brought her in to the birthday dinner his family was giving her. She knew he was going to announce their engagement, and she remembered the panic of not really knowing how to behave around families that seem to stay living together. Or stay alive at all. John had called her a “funny little creature” that night, too. And she could see Frank and Molly in the kitchen as they’d gotten to the porch of John’s house. Molly was straightening Frank’s bow tie, and his face was soft as he looked at her.

She smiled, watching Frank walk away. She took the top off of Molly’s lipstick, smeared the bright red onto her lips and straightened her shoulders again.

“It starts with you,” John had whispered to her that night on the front porch, before opening the front door. He’d soaked her heart with all of his dreams for their future — for their something else — “It starts with you for me, Claire. Because you are not afraid.”

And she wasn’t.