July 22, 2018

When I was twenty-two, I had Hebrews 11:1 tattooed on my back. It was the first verse I’d ever underlined in my Bible. I called it my “life verse,” even though, at the time, I don’t think I understood what that phrase meant. In fact, I’m sure I underlined the verse because I didn’t understand it either. But I wanted to. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That’s how it reads in the NIV translation of the Bible I’ve had since I was nine, the Bible I still use in my morning devotionals, the Bible that now has countless verses underlined and is literally falling apart at the seams. In King James, the verse reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Neither of these was particularly clear to me, but both held something precious enough I deemed it worth tattooing on my body. Both held a truth I wanted to grab hold of, enter into, understand. Last year, I added to the tattoo: a butterfly and an array of cherry blossoms. Two things I love for how they remind me of the way God moves in nature. How He works through process. How things that seem to have died can be brought to life again. I was pressing closer to the truth of this verse, that it has something to do with believing in God’s sovereignty and being certain that the only way life can be birthed out of seasonal and cyclical death is by the breath of God. But I was still missing a component. Today in church, my pastor quoted Calvin, who said, “Faith is a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us.” I have always had trouble believing in the goodness of God, not because my life has been an endless torment, but because, to me, it’s seemed safer to believe in the certainty of the bad than the possibility of the good. But worshipping a God who isn’t good to us is madness, at best. We can bow down and serve an angry God out of fear, but worship means surrender, adoration, devotion. It means love. And faith, in turn, means, not only knowing, but trusting the One in whom we believe. It doesn’t mean strong-arming ourselves into the false notion that life will be nothing but butterflies and flowers. It does mean remembering that “the ultimate law,” as C.S. Lewis calls it, always has the last word. That God’s design in everything is for His glory and our good, and even when things don’t go the way we want them to, or when tragedy rages in, or when we flail in confusion, or when we screw up, He still loves us and is for us and will redeem us. This is the ultimate law. Caterpillars morph into butterflies. Flowers break out of bare branches. Faith is being certain of the goodness of God.

April 17, 2018

I am not a gardener. I made a brief but ill-fated attempt at cultivating a succulent garden in third grade, but ever since, I’ve left the landscape maintenance to whoever I happened to be living with at the time, or in recent years, to whoever the landlord hires. The only reason my few houseplants survive is because I am a creature of habit, and therefore, can remember to drop ice cubes and sprinkles of water on them every two weeks. And maybe it’s because I’ve been spending more time at home, or maybe it’s because certain things just start to bother me at certain times, but the other day, I found myself climbing through the ivy and pulling out dozens of dead ferns. A few days later, I chopped the blackened branches off a shrub that had been struggling to sprout. New ferns grew up to replace the old ones within a matter of days, and sprigs of green are beginning to creep onto the shrub. There’s something to removing the dead things—in nature, as well as in our spirits—in order to make way for new life, and this is ultimately what I love about spring: I love to see how things can change, to be reminded that life can still find a way, but sometimes, it needs someone to help it along.

February 17, 2018

Early spring

There are 5,280 feet in a mile, and I’ve counted each one as I ran, the way I’ve counted every day since I lost you, though sometimes I wake having met you in dreams, and then the counting begins all over again. I’ve found myself lately running down the middle of the road—veering when a car comes, but always drifting back—and I don’t know what that means, except maybe I’ve found a form of equilibrium, though today this doesn’t seem likely. Today, I am an early spring, struggling to break from ground still frozen. They say another storm is coming. I look with worry on daffodils pushing from the dirt, on camellias beginning to pepper with blossoms. They always teach us to fear an early spring, tell us to huddle over its fragile beauty and let the hail pummel our backs. But the truth is, nature is far more resilient than we’ve ever learned to give her credit for. So I guess what I’ll do now is go on a run and recite Dermot Kennedy’s “After Rain” while I’m moving, the only song that makes sense in your absence, in the way that it makes nearly no sense at all. But not the released version—the live one, with the four beginning verses that got cut off in the recording, because isn’t that always the way of it?

January 24, 2018

A number of months after I quit my job, I went shopping, and I only bought sweatshirts—things I wouldn’t wear outside the house. I was, both consciously and unconsciously, declaring that, whatever my next money-making endeavor would be, it would be done from home. From the too-expensive desk beside the window that doesn’t open, and yet, still manages to pulse with cold air. In my loft apartment with no insulation, and therefore, an alarming electric bill—the price I willingly pay for the solitude most everyone said I’d never find in the city. In the non-standard working hours of afternoon and evening, since my inability to think coherently before ten a.m. only seems to be worsening as I get older, and so it’s become even more essential that the early hours are reserved for physical exertion instead of mental. I’ve always been a bit of a brat when it comes to getting what I want. I figured out how to start classes during second period instead of first my senior year of high school, got through college in three years (with mostly afternoon classes), and had my Master’s by age twenty-three, all while remaining adamant about being a writer. And in all the years since, through all the jobs and bouts of writer’s block and seasons when creativity came slowly—when who I am got watered down to nearly unrecognizable degrees—at my core, I have still been two things: a writer and a brat. A writer in that, no matter what, I can’t not write, can feel my brain being turned into sloshing psychosis when I don’t, and have come to realize, for me, a daily practice is essential. A brat in that, at thirty-one, I am still the two-year-old who insisted on getting a blue mattress, despite the high unlikelihood that such a thing existed. When we walked into the mattress store, lo and behold, there was a blue one, and I ran toward it, flung myself on top of it, and my father laughed and told the salesman, “I guess we’re getting that one.” I’ve been thinking of that story a lot lately, in this time of scheming and praying about what to do next—sitting in my quiet apartment, wearing a rotation of sweatshirts, writing every day, and insisting all of this remains—and I’m reminded that when my demands become their clearest and, to some, their most unreasonable, I am often on the cusp of getting what I want.

January 15, 2018

A birthday blessing

Maybe this year the tumor
will turn out to be benign,
“I love you” will be spoken
in earnest, and the snowstorm
will dissolve into rain. Maybe
a “yes” will push up from
the pile of “no,” overflowing
these months like Kleenex
spilling from the trash.
Maybe this year the skylights
won’t leak, and jobs won’t
be quit, and friends once kept
close as not-so-supple skin
will stick around instead
of taking their leave. Maybe
this is the year when
the reflection in the mirror
begins again to look familiar,
like someone you once knew
long ago, or someone you
would still like to be.

October 29, 2017

I hate sweeping more than any other chore. It’s time-consuming, obnoxious, and when you live beneath a colony of pine trees, utterly futile, especially in autumn. I let the pine needles collect on my deck for far too long, before resigning myself to three minutes of the most half-hearted attempt at sweeping ever conducted by a member of the human race, and I do so knowing I will have to do this again days later. So why do I bother? Well, aside from having been raised to respect property, I sweep because eventually (meaning, like, tomorrow) it will start to rain, and it will keep raining, and the pine needles will keep falling, and they will band together in villages, beneath which mildew will grow and turn my deck into a slimy, putrid mess. I sometimes wonder if this is what happens when we harden our hearts, when pieces of the world fall upon us, and keep falling, and we let those pieces collect and band together, beneath which bitterness and resignation begin to grow, turning our hearts festering and fearful. And maybe it’s easier—and at times, even seems to make more sense—to give way to the ferment instead of daily repeating the act of coming to Jesus to let Him sweep away the fear and the worry, all the doubts we talk ourselves into believing are inevitable, and maybe they are. But Jesus always has a broom, and it’s been my experience that He is far more willing to sweep than I am. Often, I’m the one lying prostrate beneath the weight of it all, staring blankly into the sky, acting like no such thing as a broom had ever been invented, or like I don’t have a God who is longing to brush the fallen things of this world from my heart.

September 17, 2017

It didn’t get warm today. For the first time in I don’t know how long, the clouds kept the cold in and even brought some rain. I stayed all afternoon in a chair with a novel I’ve read twice before and got up to make dinner too late because I wanted to finish the book before I moved. Seven years ago today, I careened onto Portland’s un-navigable streets with every material possession I could cram into my car. Four apartments, four jobs, and countless gains and losses later, here I still am. “Do you ever think about leaving?” someone asked me the other day. It’s a question I’m asked far more often than I think to ask anyone else. Perhaps I have the look of one who is unsettled. “I don’t know where I’d go,” has become my answer, the thrill of the hunt gone out of me. I’ll take the chair and the blanket and the warm cup of tea. I’ll take the quiet I love and tuck tight into my world of books and trees, and I won’t even put up the pretense, like I did in my younger days, that this is enough. It’s not, but it is what it is, and it has been worse, and we humans like to pretend thoughts like these are comforting. The Gorge is burning. Over 30,000 acres have been destroyed, and I haven’t hiked it in four years. What have I been doing? Everything and nothing. Working. Turning thirty. Watching seasons turning. Counting down the days as if they held some sort of promise. Earlier today, I finished Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, a book I started to read last summer because I had encountered this line in another: “And were it true, we do not think all philosophy is worth one hour of pain.” Here we lie, Portland, you and I, after all this time. We do not look the same as we once did, and good thing, because now there can be no mistake: we are not the same at all.

August 27, 2017

Talk to me about the habit of art, and I’ll tell you about a workspace covered in Post-its, of the years when writing was relegated to weekends, of the people I neglected because of it. I’ll tell you of the times I tried to be more orderly and keep my mental breadcrumbs in notebooks or Word docs, of how my hand always found its way back to neon sticky notes, of how I eventually accepted the chaos. I’ll tell you how my process never felt good enough, full enough, long enough when compared to anyone else’s, how it took ten years and five books to convince me I must be doing something right, how there are days and mostly nights I’m still not sure. How outer life began to choke the space I’d carved for creativity, and I began to hoard what precious time I did have, guard it like the only thing that kept me sane, and maybe it was. But then I’ll tell you why I had to change that. How it had been a year since I’d driven the 20 miles to see my family, how I couldn’t remember the last time I’d read a book when I wasn’t half-asleep, how when something had to suffer for it, it was always someone. How maybe art is just as much what we do as who we are, and I didn’t like the person I’d become. I’ll tell you about a detour: a pile of theology by the chair, a pile of novels and memoirs by the bed, mid-week lunches and entire Sundays taken up by friends, whole afternoons writing essays plucked from scatters of Post-its. And yes, I put that meal on my credit card, and yes, I am still single, and no, I don’t have the life I always wanted. But at least now I recognize the woman who’s living it, and maybe the habit of art pushes us towards exactly this: how to uncover ourselves in the midst of it, how to reshape when it climbs past its edges, how to see it as the root of habitation, how to consider all it takes to make a home.

July 29, 2017

In Pensées, Blaise Pascal writes, “We naturally believe ourselves far more capable of reaching the centre of things than of embracing their circumference.” I am always trying to get to the bottom of it, to arc my compass wide as it needs to go, so long as I’m still digging hard into that meaty middle point. Protractor to measure and manipulate the angles, graph paper keeps them all contained in boxes I would one day learn to break open. I was good at math, and I confess, a part of me misses the certainty of it: Two plus two equals four, until—my mathematician brother reminds me—you get into the theoretical stuff, and those neat and tidy equations go right out the window, and back you go to circling. Circling on paper that gives out when doused in water, blue lines bleeding your mess of calculations all over infinite space. How do you quantify it then? All those exponentials could never match my variables. I would never believe in simply orbiting, when I could be held by the bottom of gravity.

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