we’ll take a cup of kindness, dear.

Heart pictures. Nanoseconds of my life curated with the utmost care, tucked away and saved over these years. I take them out every once in a while, roll them over in my hands, gaze at them with unfocused eyes, memorize their shape, study them in detail.

I am a museum.

Endless portraits of sunsets, rolling hills, fields of corn. But the landscape section of my museum will never be filled up.

The image of a scarf floating through the wind, tied loosely around a boy’s neck. The glow of the dashboard of some car where dreams were shared and tears were wasted. An oar dipped in river water.

Some bad things too. The tears on my mother’s cheek when she realized what she had done. My sister hunched over a coffin as our father tried to pull her away. My friend’s shoulder as he hugged me in despair.

These heart pictures have sounds attached to them most of the time. The giggles of my teenage roommates as they opened christmas presents. Mom’s soprano floating through the house. Languages I dont understand. The knife sharpener that meant dinner was almost ready. Screams of excitment during my first roller coaster ride. Music. Endless music.

And suddenly, in the midst of confusion and pain and questions and busyness, I understand that old phrase we hear this time of year….”For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne.”

give me dove’s eyes.

I want to put away my cynicism. I want a simple faith, a simple love. 

Earlier tonight I was preparing to drive home after having dinner with a friend. I was thumbing through some old CD’s I stash in my car (in case of emergencies, you know.) Bullet to Binary (hardcore mix), nah. Glee (season 2, of course), nah. Dance Mix, nah. Johnny Cash favs, nah. 

And then there it was. No title. Just lyrics written in blue sharpie covering the whole front of the CD. I had completely forgotten about this one. I popped it in and started to drive. Jonathan David Helser’s gravelly tenor was pure nostalgia, though the memories are only a few years old. 

Abba, I belong to You,” he sings. It’s tattooed onto my skin and yet I had forgotten where it came from. And suddenly I felt this deep longing to have the last two years erased from my life, to return to that place of complete simplicity and healing. I have very different views about Abba than I did then but I have gained a cynicism that is toxic. 

In my attempt to free myself from the chains of religion, yes I have found the raw and genuine Jesus, but I lost the beautiful Abba that used to hold me and cry with me and tell me how precious I am to him. Oh, must I always lose something in these life lessons? 

There are terrible parts of the bible, things I cannot believe. But there are beautiful, gentle, healing parts of the bible that take my hand and give me precious gifts of faith. 

I miss the simplicity. I miss the way I would ease into conversation with him. I miss the feathers dropped on the ground, a sort of inside joke with us. I miss the tears of joy and the tears of pain.

He, abba, was always solidly present to me that it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see him or hear him. felt him. I always will. 

“here is the deepest secret nobody knows 
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)” e.e. cummings

 

hold me near

Boy, I never thought I’d be here. I never thought that my twenty-sixth year would bring so much…muchness. Heart-thoughts come in waves lately. A hurricane of questions overwhelm me and I just barely grasp a few long enough to look at them in confusion and then release them to the wind. I keep telling myself that it’s okay to feel these things, it’s so very natural for me to gather my thoughts like wool. The only problem is that I keep putting off the carding and spinning of this wool. It’s always so much work and I’m worried I’ll do it all wrong and end up with yarn that breaks apart at the first sign of tension. 

I know what kind of life I want- one of love and servanthood, one of fearless adventure, one of daring and ferocity, one of grace and humility. I know these things are essential to who God is. But what about the other things we have all heard about God? What about the rules, the behaviour expectations, the parts of the Bible that aren’t so shiny? Am I just supposed to read, accept, and move on? Because I can’t. I’ve been trying for 22 years in this weird love-affair, and I can’t do it anymore.

There are things about the God of the Bible that I do not want to accept. I don’t think they nullify the beauty, the effortless love. But what, then, shall I do? This is a particularly stubborn tuft of wool, but perhaps the most important. 

There are things about The Church that I think are completely ridiculous. What we’ve clung to in the past, the words we put on our signs, the things we’ve decided are important. You can scream it from the steeple all you want, “Relationship, not religion!” but don’t be surprised when people mistake your gospel for a list of bylaws. Before you love your neighbor find out their sexual orientation/preference, views on abortion, and who they voted for in the last election. If they meet most of your standards, invite them to church, get them in the door, then bombard them with changes they need to make in order to fit in with what your church views as the ideal christian life. Truly, that is the gospel in action!

I used to take solace in the church, as a group and as a building. What can I do now but grieve the loss of such a place of peace and reassurance? It holds little for me but questions and sarcasm. If there is beauty I can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to look for it.

I understand that I have the opportunity to affect change in my own church circles. Frankly, I don’t relish this responsibility. Those of you who have taken on this task, I applaud you and I thank you and I will support you in any way possible. But please, be patient with me as I gain courage to join your ranks. 

The Jesus I cannot abandon is full of love. There is light and life in his presence. Whatever hesitation I might have about God, whatever criticisms I offer about the Church, I can’t let go of Jesus. He is what I crave about this faith of mine. His reactions to the world are what I cling to and hope to emulate. And for all my kicking and screaming…I’m still very much in love with him. And I really believe I always will be. 

So that is the odd path I find myself taking this year. If it has hurt- I’m sorry, I love you, and I hope to do better. If it has helped- I’m grateful, I love you, and let’s all do better. 

 

touch my mouth and hold my tongue.

I have said many words in my 26 years on this earth. Kind words mixed with hateful things, cutting and affirming, self-deprecating, boastful, angry screams, soft whispers, loving thoughts, curious musings. Some in different languages, some in gibberish, some in a tongue only Jesus can hear.

And I’m slowly trying to apologize for every single one of them. I have been selfish and cutting and harmful in the quest for myself. My tongue has been my master and it has exploited both of us in ways we may not yet know. I have done no service but for myself. 

This may seem counter-productive, adding more words to the ones I already wish I could take back. Please forgive me for whatever negative thing may come from this.

And now begins the journey toward listening and thinking and treasuring. Being silent more often than not. Using actions to convey my heart-thoughts. Giving of myself in new and sincere ways. There is so much ground to cover and I fear it will be this way for the rest of my life. And if you hear these words in your own head/heart and do not understand what they mean, please cast them aside and forget them. There is enough confusion in this world without my influence. 

May peace invade our conversations. May love be the language we speak among each other. May our tongues drip with encouragement and affirmation. May we be students of each other in ways that will rearrange our relationships.

how faith compelled and bore us on.

I am the John-Boy of my family; the oldest and the most prophesied over. For years the elders in my life, mentors in their own respect, have spoken things over me that I cherish and still hope to see manifest in my lifetime. 

To listen and learn from people I admire, though I do not agree with them, has been the most humbling lesson of my life. Faith is precious, though it may not resemble my own. There is so much I have learned from the older generations of my family. There is one prophecy I hope to fulfill soon. Ever since I can remember my grandfather has always told me that one day I will write a book about our family. This may seem trite and disingenuous, but he and I both know what a treasure our history is. It is important to understand one another’s experiences and to honor our history by recording it. And so it is that I come to present a meager offering of that history, at least my experience of it. 

___

(an excerpt from The Book)

Patriarchal expectations aside, these beautiful women have developed some way to hold fast to their independence. They gather together in kitchens, a place that our culture has demanded they rule, and they talk. And talk and talk and talk. And all the world’s problems are solved before you can say Arroz con Gandules. And they touch each other’s shoulders in support, sharing each other’s burdens. And they teach the younger generations about family and faith and flan. Those kitchens are sacred ground where worries are flattened out like tortillas, hurts are thrown into the oven to be refined into strength, and love is the ingredient that makes life worth all the effort. 

These women are precious gems that have rubbed against each other so often they have made each other shine. This realization came to me quite a long time ago. When I decided to embrace this ancient tradition that was my heritage it became clear to me that my world would always include these things. 

Cooking is always going to be synonymous with friendship. My children will know as surely as I did standing at the counter in Abuela’s kitchen watching her fry up the Bacalaitos: family is the most important thing. 

I can walk into a group of women with full confidence thanks to Abuela and the fearless way she lives. I can learn new things because she learned them first. I can live my life and give away everything I have to the people around me because she has shown me how rich she is with love. It is an irreplaceable lesson, a humbling reminder that I am responsible for myself and the impact my own life has on this world. 

 

 

“Long after we are dead and gone, for a thousand years our tale be sung, how Faith compelled and bore us on. Oh Sarah, fair and barren one, come to Canaan, come.”

you have a way of stirring up my soul.

It was 2001. I was an awkward freshman in high school, completely self aware and yet wholly apathetic as to how the world operated. I was just coming into a thirst for knowledge (of which I have yet to be cured). The years ahead were vast and innumerable, filled with the hopes and dreams of the little girl who gazed up at the moon each night in wonder. 

That was the year I joined the youth group at church. That was the year I felt God hold my hand. That was the year I learned what it was He expected of me. That was the year all of my hopes and dreams changed into some kind of list of expectations and requirements. Things became complicated and difficult and many weeks were spent anguishing over His silence. Tears, bitterness, heartfelt longing for a simplicity I did not know existed. Why, God? What do you want me to do? Where are you? How have I failed you?

My 14 year old brain, frontal lobe still vastly underdeveloped, was not able to reason with God. So much of my teens was spent learning and adopting other people’s opinions while letting go of my own. They shaped how I interacted with God, how I thought about Him on a practical level. It was unavoidable yet deeply regrettable. Shadows and blurred lines and gray shapes in the distance of my worldview were not allowed; everything had to be black and white, starkly contrasting at every level.  

This is 2013. And I am still fairly awkward, but hopefully less self-involved and more mindful of other humans. And this year of turmoil that I have yet to summit has brought to light much of what I have, until now, held as truth. 

I can kill spiders without sobbing for hours afterward. I can say words that would make my grandmother scowl and I don’t think twice about it. I drive with my knee sometimes and have yet to get into an accident.

The point is, some of the things I believed when I was 14 cannot follow me into my late 20′s. The expectations I placed on myself that pertain to my “Christian Faith” have not stood the proverbial test of time. I love Jesus without all the rules I thought were necessary to our relationship. Such excess, superfluity. And for what? To make all of us look/act/dress/speak/think the same? Unnecessary. I have my own ideas and dreams and desires that Jesus knows and I believe He loves my individuality. Without the rules and expectations there is a freedom of feeling without having to filter my emotions. What I experience doesn’t go through some sort of checklist of right/wrong, godly/ungodly. Saying that I belong to Him isn’t some way of lashing myself to a cause or a doctrine. I belong to Him because it is the only freedom my soul has ever known. 

Ten years from now, when I look back on what I believe at this moment, maybe I’ll cringe with regret. But at the very least I will have a better understanding of the fluidity of faith and the effects of true freedom on the soul. 

Stink Bugs and Introspection

In my room I have one stink bug. He leaves me alone and I keep myself from squashing him with my slipper. I know many people who have bigger stink bug problems than I do. But today I had a thought. What if I only have one stink bug this season? What if this is the worst it ever gets?

And that, I think, is a crucial part of who I am. I will always believe that whatever circumstance I am in is the worst it can get. I know it sounds like such a morose and grim thought, but I honestly think it’s a positive one.

When faced with a problem my go-to response is to hope for the best. If this is the worst it’ll get, I can handle it. I’ve been through this before and I can keep going through it, because this is probably the worst it’ll be.

I think this is what makes me a good friend. I will always believe in the best possible outcome, no matter how much others may try to talk me down. You can literally do your worst and I will still stick by you, because if that’s as bad as it gets then I can handle it.

I believe in good. I believe that life, no matter how horrible, will always be made meaningful by the good. Whether it is a sunset or a cat’s purr or a deep love or a baby’s giggle, good will always win. And I will always hunt out the good in people, and I will always be the one who points it out. Because that’s what I believe in.

Good always wins.

there’s no end to affection you have for me!

My nephew was born a few weeks ago and I was so honored to be a part of that process. I’ve relived it so many times and each memory is precious.

Noah can’t talk, he can’t think cognitively, he doesn’t know how to interact with others. But he is my favorite person in the whole world. I am happiest when I’m holding him; he is the best part of me. I can’t explain that, and honestly I don’t want to psychoanalyze it. There is a beautiful simplicity to our relationship right now, and I believe it is more than enough to fill up my heart for a lifetime.

He came out of my cousin and into the world with blood and screaming and tears. He will most likely experience blood and screaming and tears sometime in his life. But his very existence in this world is a miracle. He survived the blood and screaming and tears, he lives in spite of everything he has experienced so far. This is what I am learning from him. In all of the mess of his birth he is a beautiful survivor.

And this is the grace in it all: That God sees me like I see Noah. I am a mess, bloody and screaming and filled with angry tears. At times I am not happy with anything He does for me. But I know that his heart fills up with love when he looks at me, when he holds me and kisses my cheek. The very breath in my lungs is air he breathed first. I look like him, I sing like him, maybe I even talk like him. And every interaction with me makes his heart swell. Even when all I’m doing is breathing, he is so proud of me.

Do you see? It is never because of what we do. His heart fills with love for us because of who we are.

It will never be about how dirty we are, or how much we cry, or how needy we think we are. It’s about the fact that he is our Daddy, and he can’t help himself. He just loves us because we are his kids. It’s beautiful and simple and wonderful and radical.

the violet hour.

I have taken an inordinate amount of time to update this blog. I believe the last time I wrote was in April, and so much has changed and is still changing. My life right now has a beautiful rhythm mixed with some intense moments. But it’s late summer, my house smelled like baked apples all afternoon, the sun shines in spite of the fog, and we are wondrously adaptable creatures. 

There are beautiful moments in my life and I have been challenged lately to start keeping track of these moments. Things that make me happy, ways in which I take joy in life, the reflective pauses in the midst of small sweetnesses. 

selah.

The strains of Debussy’s Clair de Lune floats around the cricket’s and cicada’s concerto from the trees outside. My room makes me feel like Anne Shirley. “Love conquers all” decal above my door is a beautiful reminder every time I walk out (also, I kerned the letters well when I put it up.) The tiny orchard outside my window gives off a sweet fragrance in the heat of the day. The September Issue of Vogue came in the mail today, and with it came free perfume samples. Campfires with lovely people are so calming. Trip planning is exhilarating.

selah. 

So much more. My life is so blessed. 

But I’ve been thinking lately about why it matters that I recognize that I’m blessed. I think it’s because I can get easily caught into the trap of discontent and forget that I am rich with friends and family and beautiful things around me. My life is made up of beauty, regardless of how it appears. The things in my life are beautiful because I say they are. Isn’t that what God did every time he created something? He made it, looked it over, and called it “good.” The world is horribly screwed up, but it is also beautiful because he said so. I have a say in how I view my environment, in how it interacts with me.

And I say, “it is good!” 

the dirt above and below me.

“Can I be used to help others find truth when I’m scared that I’ll find proof that it’s a lie?” Nicklecreek

Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted. I feel that there has been so much more I could have done in my life. I have not listened as much as I could have. People have not always, or ever, been my first priority. But I see this and I hate it. And I wish I could change it. Because you’re beautiful. And you’re worth getting to know. And you have so much to offer in friendship. I just feel like there needs to be an apology.

There is such beauty in sitting with Jesus in silence. Like watching a sunset with the one I love. It’s calming, purifying. I’ve been pulled into this deep silence for the past day or so. Words are so arbitrary. He knows me. It’s just enough to be with him, in this state of stillness.

It’s not always perfect quietude. Sometimes I just start thinking in questions, which I know is okay, but it’s different than our regular discourse. I’ve always been so chatty with him, not really thinking too much about what I tell him, but really enjoying the conversation. But lately I’ve been asking things like, “Did it hurt when your blood started pumping through your veins again when you rose from death? Like when my leg falls asleep?” and “What color was Adam’s hair?”

We know that these things don’t really matter in the long run, but I enjoy being three years old again asking questions about things the heavenly beings encounter all the time.

I also ask him a lot about myself. For instance, I am currently hung up on the question, “why do I cower in fear and terror every time someone is angry with me?” I’ve been asking this for a long time. It has a lot to do with my childhood experiences, this much I know. I just hate that I can never stand up for myself even when I am in the right. The moment I feel anger directed toward me I emotionally run to my hiding places like a four year old girl. If only people would stop being angry when they see how scared I am. But it usually ends with me feeling like I’ve been stuffed in my locker again.

I suppose that reaction will follow me the rest of my days. And that’s okay with me, as long as I don’t have many bullies in my life. That’s another thing I’m quietly contemplating with Jesus.

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