October 10, 2018

I’ve been teaching myself to do handstands, after years of being afraid of them. After years of recovering from one injury after another, when just please let me keep doing this one thing superseded all thoughts of doing something more. It’s been two months since I started kicking my legs up over my head and forcing myself to stay there for five breaths, seven, ten. I still need the wall to support me, but I can feel myself getting stronger—in the moments of inversion, yes, but more so in the others. When my neck no longer arbitrarily throws itself out of whack. When I can lift and pull and reach for things without tweaking my shoulder. When I’m in plank for the ten thousandth time in fifteen years of practicing yoga, and suddenly, it’s bearable. It’s true physically, and it’s true metaphorically: nothing beats learning to hold your own weight. I have spent most of my life feeling like a glass that’s overflowing, spilling needs and wants and neuroses all over the floor. I have teetered between the belief that being “fixed” means I won’t feel this way anymore and that being “fixed” is not precisely possible. But in fifteen months of working from home and living alone and spending the bulk of my time with Jesus, I’ve come to understand neither of those are true. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” Paul writes in Galatians 5:1. Freedom, to me, means space. It means making room for God to come in and say, “Actually, you are just who I made you to be. Now, let me show you how to be who you are and have all your brokenness bound up in Me.” It means sanity—not the sterilized, medicated, gray-eyed sanity the world offers, but the fierce, enveloping, whole-person sanity of Jesus. It means what Paul writes in II Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It means approaching my well-worn patterns with courage and asking, “Why am I eating this, why am I doing this, is this book really finished?” and not becoming undone when I discover things in need of mending. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. It means hoisting myself upside down, day after day, and settling into the uncomfortable but wonderful truth that what I’ve been conditioned to accept as a given is actually capable of change.

September 16, 2018

“Be joyful,” Wendell Berry says, “though you have considered all the facts.” Though you have considered all the reasons the Lord may choose not to bless you: there are people starving, you dropped an f-bomb in traffic, and of course, not everyone gets what she wants. But is it that? Is it that you can’t reconcile sovereignty and suffering? Is it that you believe God stands ready to slap you the moment you screw up? Or is it that trusting Him doesn’t feel safe? That’s it, isn’t it? It’s that wanting something so badly is so hard, and holding it pressed to your chest without fully letting Him near it seems like a better idea. A more reasonable plan. A backup, a contingency, a “I’m going to ask for this, God, but not with everything I have.” Because it’ll hurt too much if you ask, and He denies you, right? But doesn’t it hurt already, what you’re doing? Trying to convince yourself you don’t want this blessing as badly as you do? “Be joyful,” you tell yourself, “though you have considered all the facts.” Be happy, though there is a hole in your heart that could swallow the sun. Be content, though God has told you He will fill that hole to overflowing—give you Himself, give you His joy, in all the ways He manifests His kingdom in the here and now. But you choose to let your pulse grow thin and thready and say, “I can still love God if this is as good as it gets.” But is that loving God? Or is that your pride trying to prove you don’t need anything from anyone, not even Him? You need everything from God. Whether you choose to ask Him for the big, bold heartbeats does not change the fact that you need Him even for the breath you’re breathing in this moment. So why not take Him at His word? Why not ask and seek and knock and actually expect an answer? Why not trust that a good Father gives good gifts to His children, though you’ve seen this a thousand times over? Why not consider that, by giving Him all the facts, He will give you joy? And not the sad, sorry, human joy you’ve been trying to muscle yourself into. But actual joy. Spirit-filled, pouring-over, bright, beautiful, God-throbbing joy. What if He wants to bless you because He loves you? Have you ever considered that?

August 16, 2018

When I gave you up for good, I bled for ten straight days. Had I told you, you would’ve said this was impossible, but believe it or not, I know my body better than you do. I know how it responds when I let go: how muscle knots untighten, how dislocated bones slide back into their sockets. How griefs and wants and yearnings I’ve piled up in organs find ways of getting out. Think of the blood like a cough that lingers for weeks after the flu—the body knows when something’s still not right. When I gave you up for good, my body dug into the recesses of my memories, pulled out iron-coated, dripping blocks of “no,” and flung them out the window, the way a lesser woman might’ve hurled your underwear onto the lawn, had you left any in the house. My body is a house. In fact, my body is a temple, and if my God says there is no room for you inside of it, then well, there is no room. Out you go with the blood. How long had I held onto you? Years and years and years. How long had you clung to the walls of me? Why did it take me so long to understand, to make you let go, I had to let go myself? “Yield, and God yields,” Charles Spurgeon writes. It is a truth I’ve known for years, yet I’ve only begun to apply it to myself. My body, my temple, my house. When I gave you up for good, I heard God sigh and say, “Well done.” I bled for ten straight days, and I swear, you don’t echo as loudly as you used to. There’s so much more room between the walls.

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.

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